“Open Table” refers to what some have called “Communion before Baptism,” the liturgical practice of offering Holy Eucharist to those who are, as yet, unbaptized. Doing so in 2013 is, to say the least, controversial in the Episcopal Church. It is openly practiced and encouraged by some congregations and dioceses, distinctly forbidden or discouraged in others. Voices for change compete with voices in favor of the status quo.
In early 2013, The Rt. Rev. Mark Beckwith, Bishop of the Diocese of Newark, commissioned a Diocesan Task Force to discuss and discern “the many theological, liturgical and pastoral issues regarding the receiving of the Eucharist,” specifically with regard to the Open Table.
Bishop Beckwith brought together clergy who had identified interest and lay people recommended by mentors in the Education for Ministry (EfM) program from the University of the South. Some weren’t able to participate for the whole process, but were very helpful for the time they were with us. In the end, there were seven of us seeing the process to completion – three clergy, three lay people, and a sister of Convent St. John Baptist, the monastic community with which our Diocese is graced. Some of us were more heavily involved in the writing of this report than others, but the comments herein come from research and discussion by all of the Task Force members. Everyone contributed, and we are pleased to offer this report.
We have experience in Dioceses on the conservative, as well as the progressive, end of the spectrum. We have been involved in congregations large and small, growing and declining, as well as urban, suburban and rural. Some of us are cradle Episcopalians; others have joined the Episcopal Church at later stages in our lives. Four of us are graduates of EfM; two of the four are mentors, as well. Four of us have M.Div. degrees, and three of us have doctorates – in theology, sociology and social work, respectively. We have tried, in our deliberations, to draw prayerfully on all of this background.
What we have in common is that we are deeply committed to the Episcopal Church – its vitality, renewal and continued relevance.
Over the course of 2013, we met in a series of conversations on the topic, facilitated each time by sharing an actual dinner table. We did research ahead, which we circulated by e‐mail, and then discussed in person. We successively considered the pastoral, historical, scriptural, liturgical, theological and cultural aspects of the issue. We asked the larger EfM community for input, resources, and stories, which they provided with grace-‐filled openness. While these were useful lenses through which to view the practice, we kept coming back to a common set of thoughts which we have tried to capture here.
This report is the culmination of those discussions. We hope, with due humility, that our work inspires further prayerful conversation as to how the Diocese of Newark can continue its call to be a place of radical welcome for all who come to the Church and to its Table.
The full report is attached above.
2013 Open Table Task Force
The Rev. Mary Davis and Gregory Luciano, Co‐Chairs
The Rev. Dr. Cathy Deats, Sue Morgan, Sister Linda Claire Riley (Convent of St. John Baptist), The Rev. Dr. Sonia Waters, Dr. Rosemary Wright