Monday, September 11, 2006

No unauthorised entry

Unlike the writer of Psalm 84, I don’t like being a Gate Keeper in the house of God, because the trouble with gates is that they shut as well as open.

Lovely lovely youth group resumed last night, and it was wonderful to see them all again, after a summer of varied travels and exam successes…to be back in touch with a part of my congregation and of my ministry that fills me with the greatest hope and excitement, so that I'm energised even after a long long Sunday.

However, I have to say that I wasn’t flavour of the month with them last night, and I totally sympathise.
In June I wrote about the delight of their Birthday Service, and the reverence and joy with which those kids came to God's table.
I remain confident that each of them was there by choice, drawn by a genuine longing to engage with God and to receive the incredible grace that is on offer.
I have no doubt at all that in placing a precious fragment of bread into those open hands, I was honouring God and doing what I was ordained to do.
But last night I had to explain that, due to a change in Canon Law (which is, ironically, part of standardising practice in the Church of England, so that all dioceses must enable the baptised to receive Communion before Confirmation, if that is their desire) I would not be able to encourage them to receive the Sacrament again, unless they were willing to go through a preparation course, and be formally admitted, their details recorded in a register (another register, for heaven’s sake! As if we didn’t already have enough records for me to lose, confuse or fail to complete) and their baptism certificates inscribed with the information that they had been duly prepared and admitted.

I’m proud to say that they didn’t take it lying down.

They recognise the anomaly of a situation where a human institution seems to be intent on fencing round and restricting access to a means of God’s grace.
They have no problem with learning more about their faith – indeed, that’s something we’d already included in our plans for the term, as a result of their interest and enthusiasm.
We’re going to use some of the Youth Emmaus material and see where it leads us,- and I'm really looking forward to the sort of conversation that might emerge…(though the Footballing Fringe, God bless them, will struggle with the balance of manly cool and slowly germinating interest in God, -which may make for an interesting dynamic sometimes).

But they are not impressed with the institutional church and its demands…
I talked about the inevitable flaws in any human construction, but reminded them that I am bound by vows of obedience to WonderfulBishop (whom I really do love and respect) and assured them that whatever decision they made, they would be loved and valued members of the group.
But my heart tells me it’s all wrong.
There should be no need to draw lines like this.
On Maundy Thursday, it is this group that will stay awake and watch with Jesus all night long (indeed, after our first attempts to explain the new situation the first anxious question was "If we don't get admitted, will we still be able to do the Watch?")
It is this group that is alive to the questions, challenges, joys and demands of faith.
And I’m supposed to make sure they are duly “qualified” before they approach the table??
Sometimes the institutional church brings me to the edge of despair.


MGBF said...

I think your advice yesterday of "Never ever confuse God with the Church" is the best piece of advice I have ever received, especially relating to all this.

fiona said...

Tickbox religion to go with tickbox medicine and tickbox education! Will they have to produce a certificate to get to the table? If they do that's one certificate my dear younger daughter does have and I expect that since at present she's not much interested she'd sell it to anyone who is. Grrrrrrr!!!!!

Purechristianithink said...

It's always so hard to have to be the "enforcer/explainer" of a rule you yourself do not agree with. Or a rule you mostly do agree with but which makes no sense in a particular situation with which you are confronted.

Tom said...

ho hum this is tough one, and totally against the intentions of those of us who fought for Communion before Confirmation.

I wonder who told you that you would have to do this. Could I suggest three things which may be helpful:
1. If this is your Incumbents definition then you have little choice but to go along with it - since it is The Incumbent who actually decides what in practice happens in the parish once the Bishop has agreed that Communion before Confirmation (better called Communion of the Baptised).
2. The national rules do NOT say that there has to be a COURSE of preparation - they do say that each person should be properley prepared with in the case of child the support of their parents (who need not be Christians. The national rules also make clear that the preparation is ongoing - so it doesn't have to be all before they are admitted. The whole point is that it is their Baptism and their subsequent practice which enables them to receive
3. The above rules are therefore more flexible than you suggest,and I have admitted children to communion after 1 hours session covering what the Eucharist is about, asnwering any specific questions, and giving a taster - but they have supportive parents and have been attending the Eucharist most weeks since they were born.

and actually its four things cos:
4. When I extend an invitation to a congregation to recieve communion I never ever make judgements at the rail as to who is suitable - so if someone asks for communion geniunely I give it to them and then talk about afterwards. The same applies in the Catholic Church by the way.In the last year alone two adults have moved onto commitment and confirmation as a result of this offering of Christian hospitality.

and maybe its five things;
make all youth group worship an agape from now on!

Mark said...

I wanted to say something along the lines of 'sod canon law, practise the gospel' - but I can't because I'm a vicar now and that would be a terribly, terribly irresponsible thing to say. However, it's very interesting that if you stare hard enough at the apostle John in Da Vinci's Last Supper, you eventually notice that he is carrying a clipboard and taking names, just in case the disciples haven't completed the course. No, really.

Jim said...

Further to Mark's comment, not only was he making sure that they had completed the course, AND with passing marks, but that those marks completely trumped whatever evil thoughts they had in their hearts for the next few hours.

This completely and irrevocably supports the notion that once admitted to the Table, any behaviors subsequent are OK with Jesus. No need to love neighbor or God, ever. It's quite momentous, actually.

Kathryn said...

Thank you all for support and understanding...Mark, I do MISS having you about the place ;-)
Sadly, Tom, this interpretation of the Canons seems to be the fruit of our very own diocese, at least as far as the insistence on formal admission and on detailed records of the who/when/where.
The preparation element is our local variation, designed to keep grumpy congregations at bay (and actually far less of an issue)....and yes, I know full well that there is no way I will refuse outstretched hands at the altar rail. NO WAY. EVER.
Keep on praying, would you, friends?

Lorna said...

But they are not impressed with the institutional church and its demands…

neither am I.

There's a spirit of religion that is downright unbiblical. I do wish the church would get back to basics.

sorry I ranted here for a while and then deleted it - you don't wnat to hear it K. You just don't.

it's really time to put ministry before theology.

grrrr indeed
and a huge SIGH!

Dr Moose said...

In one respect it's not an obvious problem, because my main service isn't communion... but in another it is because of my obligations to my Lord Bishop of ...

Funny really. I always think of myself as a bit too closely bound by the rules, but I'm in such an anomalous position in MLPK that I think I will add this to the ever-growing list of "anomalous practices to be dealt with later" and just keep my head down for the minute.

Understand your conundrum entirely, and will (try to remember to) pray about it.

LutheranChik said...

As someone who is anticipating having the big flat foot of my Church Bureaucracy come crashing down on my head one of these months for refusing to play by their Visions and Expectations rules...I hear you.