Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why Candidate Dunn's "Communion Without Baptism" Doesn't Match Our Bishop Search Profile - and a personal plea from yours truly

It is hard for me to understand how candidate Douglas Dunn, from a "communion without baptism" parish, got into the mix here in South Dakota. One commenter on an earlier thread had a good insight - our diocese has a limited budget, and this translated into lack of travel funds for visits to the candidates' parishes, which in turn allowed key information to remain undisclosed.

"Communion without baptism" is yet another practice dumped on the church without benefit of church-wide discussion and certainly without agreement. It means inviting unbaptized people to receive the sacrament, in direct violation of Episcopal Church Canon I.17.7, "No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church." It is often justified as a way to "bring more people into the church," but candidate Dunn's parish has lost significant attendance over the last several years. It is another innovation where the promise of growth and renewal puts stars in our eyes, only to later fill them with tears as decline and stagnation are the real outcomes.

"Communion Without Baptism" is NOT our common practice of sharing the sacrament with baptized members of other Christian traditions. We are talking about a complete innovation, so controversial that even some very "liberal" Episcopal leaders and liturgical scholars have warned against it. It is a violation of longstanding Christian teaching and practice, a disaster for relations with other churches, and, frankly, a betrayal of ordination vows by clergy who do it.

These concerns are very real in our South Dakota Bishop Search profile. I want to highlight a key section, and explain why it should stand against the election of someone who practices Communion Without Baptism (CWOB) - in this case, candidate Doug Dunn.

Part III: Our Prayerful Expectations

Finally, in Part III, we look at our expectations for the person who will accept the call as South Dakota’s Tenth Bishop and fulfill this trust in obedience to Christ. Our backdrop is the history of Bishops in the National Church and in South Dakota, while our focus is on the words in The Book of Common Prayer.

These expectations state that the new Bishop...

...Will encourage and support, as Chief Priest and Pastor, all baptized people in their gifts and ministries. Our Bishop will nourish our people from the riches of God’s grace, praying for them without ceasing, and celebrating with them the sacraments of our redemption.

Notice, please, that the sacraments take their meaning from Christ's redemption of a unique group of people, called here "the baptized." The sacramental minister - "Chief Priest" - of the diocese is its bishop. CWOB betrays the understanding of the church revealed in Scripture, long standing Church tradition and our practice of both in the Book of Common Prayer. It radically misrepresents the meaning of Holy Communion.

Will guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church.

The bishop-elect, at his consecration, must swear to do this. Notice the strong word, "guard." Faith, unity and discipline are all betrayed by CWOB. Conscious and direct violation of Canon Law makes candidate Dunn unfit to take this vow.

Will share with fellow Bishops in the government of the whole Church...

The bishop is the face of our diocese in relationship with other dioceses, and a representative of the Episcopal Church to the wider Christian community. CWOB is an affront to those relationships.

We look for a Bishop who is a Spiritual Guide and Teacher, a Community Leader and Bridge Builder, and an Experienced Administrator...

CWOB is bad spiritual guidance. The Bible itself warns that unworthy reception of Communion is spiritually harmful. CWOB is bad teaching, because it ignores Scripture, tradition and reasoned reflection upon them, thus throwing out our unique theological approach. And as you can tell from my post and the link I shared above, CWOB does not build bridges - it can, in fact, burn them.

Let me make a plea here. It takes a few paragraphs to express, but I want you to have a look, primarily if you are here in this diocese. (Or you can just scroll down to the end if you are impatient).

The polarization in the church and the world is painful. For my part, I have been working to stop being such a thorn in the diocesan foot. I can't share all I've been doing, because some of it involves personal visits with people and these don't belong on the blog.

Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls is a place of growth and vitality. It has much to share. Our Lord himself warns us not to "hide our light, but to share it and bring glory to our Father in Heaven." So I want to step back from some of the feuding that has set in and find more ways to contribute positively to Christ's work in this diocese.

Members of Good Shepherd are going to be part of the prayer team supporting the election in Pierre on May 9. In fact, we have been praying for the Nominating Committee, Standing Committee, Convention and Candidates in our liturgies. Members of my congregation have been asked (and have accepted) some supporting work for the upcoming walkabouts.

All that being said, my plea is that you not throw an explosive controversy into this diocese. We need healing and building. CWOB is radically unacceptable and, without betraying any confidences, I can tell you that this is true for more clergy than just Tim Fountain. Please take this seriously as you consider your vote or discuss candidates with your congregation's delegates - candidate Dunn is not consistent with our diocesan profile and will be a source of controversy and division.


Anonymous said...

As you mentioned in another post, please also have your group pray for the "home" churches of the candidates as well. Please pray for the churches of those candidates who do not get elected. Please pray for the recommitment and renewal of pastoral care in these churches. Healing is needed all around.

Anonymous said...

Your last paragraph in red could be read in several ways.

Oddly enough, it is one candidate, Father Floberg, who brought an explosive controversy to North Dakota when he didn't get selected for the final roster of candidates. I hope that he does not intend to throw a monkey wrench into the proceedings this time.

TLF+ said...

Well, the good news there is that candidates are in a much weaker position than non-candidates! A candidate can only sit by and watch - can't act on the convention proceedings.

Just to clarify that last paragraph, electing a bishop who has practiced CWOB or other non-canonical innovations would
a) retard trust-building, certainly with more traditional clergy but also with many middle-of-the-roaders who depend upon structure and order to provide unity in diversity;
b) work against the goals stated in the diocesan profile;
c) intrude external controversy into a diocese that is attempting to rebuild internally.

If what you are sensing that I am threatening some kind of upheaval (and I can see how putting it in red might imply this), I'm not. I am saying that the diocese will die a slow, miserable death by embracing unhelpful ways. There won't be fighting so much as withdrawl, isolation, lack of morale, and other unhealthy syptoms.

Much like what is documented and described in the "State of the Church" report.

Anonymous said...

Oh, no, I don't think you're threatening some kind of upheaval at all. In fact, I am sure you are hoping that there is healing,l not some major rift exacerbated by the choice of bishop!