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Practical Guidance for Anglicans in Ecumenical Eucharistic Worship

This is part four of a four part project. The final project is here.

The genesis of this project starts with my confusion and unease communing at a Disciples of Christ led ecumenical Eucharist service inside a jail each week. Starting with the Chicago statement of Protestant Episcopal Church in 1886 and culminating with the great ecumenical work Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry coming out of Lima in 1984, much academic and theological work has been done within and outside the Anglican Christianity on the path towards visible unity in the Church. Unfortunately, outside of the guidance provided on intercommunion at Lambeth 1930 and the Intercommunion To-day coming out of the Archbishops' Commission on Intercommunion of the Church of England very little clear, pragmatic direction has been given to laity and clergy.

In my research over the last several months, I have closed in on a handful of specific situations where Anglican laity and clergy might need direction on whether they should or should not commune. Ecumenical work is difficult. Behind it all, deep theological commitments and the very real pain of the Church’s division come to the fore. Leaning on the received wisdom of the last hundred years, I provide below general best practices for Anglicans in various situations where Eucharist is celebrated. First, however, ecumenical work requires I define a few terms to assist my language on this topic in being as charitable as humanly possible while discussing real divisions and points of contention in the Church.

Terms Defined

Ecclesial Bodies

A generic term for churches (Catholic, non-episcopal, apostolic, non-apostolic, orthodox, heterodox, etc.) and other communities that self-identify and claim Christianity.


Churches that hold to the first three signs of the Church defined in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Namely, the Bible as the word of God containing all things necessary for humankind’s salvation, the Nicene and Apostle’s creeds as containing a sufficient definition of the apostolic faith, and the active practice of the two sacraments ordained by Christ: baptism and Holy Communion.


Catholic churches fulfill to all four points of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (scripture, creeds, sacraments, & the historic episcopacy “locally adapted”). Even though they are not yet all in full-communion with one another, the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox churches, Anglican churches, Coptic churches, etc. are all included in the capital “c” definition of catholicity.


Non-episcopal churches are those apostolic churches that have not yet reintegrated the gift and sign of episcopal oversight within the historic succession of bishops. Though holding to the orthodox creeds of the Church and maintaining the historic faith, non-episcopal churches are oupó holoteleis (not yet complete/whole). The historic sign of continued, orthodox teaching of the apostolic faith is the episcopacy in unbroken succession of the laying on of hands. It is an unfortunate result of the Reformation that many Christians were faced with the choice of apostolic teaching or continued apostolic succession. Non-episcopal churches do not reject the historic episcopate on doctrinal grounds and are open to reclaiming the sign (in a localized and contextually relevant way) through dialog with churches that have retained the episcopacy. (E.g. Methodist, Lutherans)

Doctrinally Non-Episcopal

Churches that affirm the Catholic faith shared in the historic creeds of the Church and faithfully administer the dominical sacraments, but not only lack the historic episcopacy, but reject it on doctrinal grounds. (E.g. Churches of Christ, some Baptists)

Ecumenical Setting

The great hope of the post-WWII ecumenical movement is, I think, sadly dead. The Spirit was, indeed, moving among the churches and major strides towards unity in the Church were made. The recognition of baptism between the Roman Catholic Church and various Protestant churches was a miraculous achievement of the 20^th^ Century. Unfortunately, the secularization and further liberalization of ecclesial bodies in the late-20^th^ and early 21^st^ centuries have brought further obstacles to Christian unity.

An ecumenical setting is where Christians come together as the living Body of Christ setting aside differences and divisions, fully recognizing each other’s baptism, and — if even just for that moment — live into a true unity. Full-communion is not yet achieved, but within the moment, Christians in an ecumenical setting live as if it were already achieved and fully expect and trust that the Holy Spirit will make it so in the future. In these settings, the Spirit makes the future reality of Christian unity actually present and real. These miraculous works of the Spirit are not common and should not be devalued. They are glimpses of the mighty work God is doing and opportunities to experience God’s unity while being drawn to lament and repentance for the division we have all caused in Christ’s Holy Church.

Anglican Best Practices

Who should commune at an episcopally ordered and valid Eucharist?

There are two general views on this topic. First, that Eucharist is the reward for unity. Second is that Eucharist is a means of grace that contributes to and feeds the Body with that required to build unity. Per the Lambeth Conference of 1930 Anglican bishops were given freedom to open Anglican tables to all baptized Christians in certain, defined “emergency” situations. These situations were not all actually emergencies and opened a clear theological path towards opening Anglican tables to all baptized Christians. There are no good reasons for an Anglican priest to withhold Holy Communion from another baptized Christian (even if they are not Anglican). All Christians who come to Anglican worship to worship our common Lord, pray the prayers of our people, and faithfully come to the alter to receive the Body and Blood of Christ (regardless of their hazy or possibly incorrect theology around the sacrament) should be welcomed. The table is not our table, but the Lord’s. To receive someone at the table is not to affirm any of their personal theologies or the theologies of the Christian community they are a part of. It is, however, recognition that the sacrament is not our own and that the Holy Spirit falls upon the elements and does what he will. The Donatist controversy teaches us that it is not the intent of the priest or others that, in the end, makes sacraments valid. God, as always, works through our sin and imperfection to enact his will and reconcile his people to himself. A body that states it is “not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under [the Lord’s] table” cannot place itself as a judge over any baptized Christian who comes to Christ’s table.1 No matter our poor theology, unclear thoughts, or sins, he is “the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy."2

Who should concelebrate at an episcopally ordered Eucharist?

Concelebration is a tricky subject even within the Catholic traditions. Inside one’s own communion, it is best to seek guidance from one’s bishop on when concelebration is or is not appropriate and what the appropriate rituals are for the practice. Ecumenically, concelebration is even more complex. If a non-episcopal minister is presiding and an episcopally ordained minister concelebrates what does that say about the non-episcopal minister’s validity? Depending on the observer it can affirm or negate the non-episcopal minister’s orders. If one sees the three-fold order of bishop, priest, and deacon as forming the esse of the Church, then concelebration is seen as at worst a heresy and at best an attempt to make the sacrament valid. It either states — through action — that the non-episcopal minister is valid and can rightfully concelebrate with an episcopally ordained minister or it could show that the episcopally ordained minister doesn’t think the non-episcopal minister’s orders are valid and that, though visibly concelebrating the episcopal priest is actually celebrating alone to make the sacrament valid. Because it is so easy for multiple people at the same event to interpret concelebration in so many ways — many hurtful ways at that — it is best practice to completely avoid concelebration or even the appearance of concelebration at all cost.

Should Anglican laity commune at a non-episcopal Eucharist?

In an ecumenical setting, the answer to this question is absolutely, “yes.” Whatever one’s view on the episcopacy and the esse of the Church, it would be a sin against the Holy Spirit to not fully participate in a miracle God is doing in the midst of division. A charitable orthodoxy relies heavily on the Holy Spirit in moments when one is not entirely clear what is or is not happening. In an ecumenical setting, it is the best witness to allow room for God to do what God will do. Communing does not mean you think orders or valid — it doesn’t mean you don’t either — or that Holy Communion is actually happening. It does, however, say — with action — that you believe in a merciful and graceful God who looks beyond our actions and our hearts to save us. It means you don’t exclude God providing for his people outside of the norm, just as the man on the cross next to Jesus was baptized to salvation in belief — baptismus Flaminis — rather than with water.3

In non-ecumenical settings it is completely up to one’s personal theology whether one communes or not. If three-fold episcopal orders are off the bene esse or plene esse of the Church, then one should definitely commune as a witness to the apostolicity still found in the Protestant churches, as a sign of Catholic willingness to share the sign of the episcopacy, and as a visible hope for the eventual holoteleis of the Church. If one views the historic episcopacy as part of the very esse of the Church, then one should take the moment of communion as a time to repent for one’s part in the divisions in the Church and, when possible, approach the non-episcopal minister for a blessing instead of receiving the elements. Receiving a blessing is an outward sign of one’s recognition of the non-episcopal minister as a baptized Christian able to pray intersessions for others and one’s openness and desire to what God is doing to eventually bring his Church together as one.

Should Anglican laity commune at an episcopal Eucharist where full-communion does not yet exist?

This question is very tricky, especially for Anglicans. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Catholics have some degree of intercommunion in emergency situations. Anglicans, however, or not invited to commune in Orthodox churches and are only allowed to commune in Roman churches under the discretion of the Roman bishop for special ecumenical services. In the end, I think this is a personal theological decision. If one’s view of oneself is very catholic then there should be absolutely no reason not to commune at a valid eucharist service, regardless of ecclesial laws that might officially prevent intercommunion. At the same time, unsanctioned intercommunion is one-sided and puts the presider in a bad position. If she or he knows about the break in ecclesial law, then she or he is guilty and one is moving another to willingly disobey her or his bishop. If she or he does not know, then one is knowingly presenting a slight falsehood to a priest. In general, one should think carefully about this and err towards refraining from communing.

Should Anglican clergy commune at a non-episcopal Eucharist?

In general, what is true for laity should be true for clergy. However, in the case of sacraments, clergy have roles not just as a believer, but as a person who can preside — within her or his own communion — over the sacraments and as a person who represents the apostolic authority claims of her or his communion.

The key question for whether clergy should commune at a non-episcopal Eucharist is whether the service is in an ecumenical setting or not. If the Eucharist occurs within an ecumenical setting, Anglican clergy must commune. Yes, we have theological differences within our communion as to the esse of the Church and where orders and sacramental authority sit within that structure. Yes, a lay person has more freedom to live out their personal convictions. Clergy, however, have a special responsibility to teach and are held to a higher standard of accountability.4 The formularies of the English Church hold a strong theology of the Holy Spirit. We can debate proper order, proper authority, and the esse of the Church, but in ecumenical settings Anglican clergy in dress and action bare the visible marks of the Catholic Church and the gift of the historic episcopacy. We must commune. If we do not, we are — through our actions — closing the door to the possibility of God working towards unity, we are de-churching sisters and brothers in Christ whose baptism we already affirm, and we are living outside of our commitments stated at Chicago-Lambeth and reaffirmed time and time again in the 20^th^ Century. Most importantly, we are sinning against the Holy Spirit and claiming that something is impossible for God. We do not have to claim that a non-episcopal minister is “rightfully ordained.” We do not need to claim — or neglect — any claims to the validity of the non-episcopal Eucharist to commune. United in our baptism, in the communion of saints, in the mighty work of the Holy Spirit, Anglican clergy can eat bread, drink juice or wine and proclaim that God can do great things. We can proclaim that the Catholic Church is ready for unity and ready for the work that God is doing alongside us. We can proclaim that the historic episcopacy is open and ready to receive our sisters and brothers of the Reformation. Anglican clergy live with many ambiguities within our own communion (baptismal regeneration, real presence or not, Calvinism or not, the esse of the episcopacy, etc.). There is room yet, for us to live into further ambiguity in ecumenical settings with non-episcopal churches.

Clergy at non-ecumenical worship services should follow the guidance of their bishop. In general, clergy should not vest or wear clergy collars when visiting a family or friend’s worship service. In these times, one is not visible as clergy and is free to live out one’s theology as a lay person. However, family dynamics, etc. can easily make this an ecumenical setting. In general, I think it is always best to commune as a sign of God’s grace and power while allowing the ambiguity of what has or has not happened at the table to go unspoken to one’s non-episcopal family and friends.

Should Anglican clergy commune at an episcopal Eucharist where full-communion does not yet exist?

Where laity have greater flexibility to live into their theologies, clergy are here further restrained. As we promise to obey our bishop and canons of the Church at our ordinations, we cannot knowingly lead a fellow clergyperson to violate the canons of her or his own communion and bishop. With episcopal churches, Anglican clergy should not commune unless given clear direction from our episcopal leadership.

Should Anglican laity commune at a doctrinally non-episcopal Eucharist? Clergy?

If the Eucharist is happening within the context of an ecumenical setting, then this is preferred for both Anglican laity and clergy. By participating in an ecumenical service and knowingly presiding over the table to be shared, the doctrinally non-episcopal minister is through her or his actions showing she or he does not affirm her or his church’s stance on the episcopacy. This outward openness is sufficient to open the door for a shared Eucharist.

In a non-ecumenical setting, Anglicans should not commune. Though God is still present and will still work even in the midst of human sin and confusion of doctrine, to commune at a doctrinally non-episcopal Eucharist would signify that we accept a closed and ahistorical view of the episcopacy. This is contrary to the apostolic faith of the Catholic Church and is something Anglicans cannot live into. Rather than opening ourselves to God’s work, accepting communion with a church that rejects Catholic order closes the door to the apostles and future possibilities for unity. The best stance, is to accept and live into the pain of division and pray for repentance and unity in the Church.

Works Referenced

An Anglican-Methodist Covenant: Common Statement of the Formal Conversations between the Methodist Church of Great Britain and the Church of England. London? Methodist Pub. House and Church House Pub., 2001.

Anglican Consultative Council. Into All the World: Being and Becoming Apostolic Churches : A Report to the Anglican Consultative Council and the World Methodist Council by the Anglican-Methodist International Commission for Unity in Mission AMICUM 2014., 2014.

Anglican-Reformed International Commission, ed. God’s Reign and Our Unity: The Report of the Anglican-Reformed International Commission, 1981-1984, Woking, England, January 1984. London : Edinburgh: SPCK ; Saint Andrew Press, 1984.

Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry. Faith and Order Paper, no. 111. Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982.

Carey, Barbara. “An Ecumenical Eucharist in Hawaii.” Anglican and Episcopal History 60, no. 2 (June 1991): 264–69.

Castro, Emilio, Kondothra M. George, Jean Stromberg, Thomas F. Best, Marlin VanElderen, Thomas F. Best, and Joan Cambitsis. “Looking Beyond Doctrinal Agreements.” The Ecumenical Review 44, no. 1 (n.d.): 1–5. []{.underline}.

Church of England, Archbishops' Commission on Intercommunion, Church of England, and Information Office. Intercommunion To-Day: Being the Report of the Archbishops' Commission on Intercommunion. London: Church Information Office, 1968.

Church of England, and House of Bishops. Apostolicity and Succession. London: Church House Pub., 1998.

———. May They All Be One: A Response of the House of Bishops of the Church of England to Ut Unum Sint. London: Church House Pub., 1998.

———. The Eucharist: Sacrament of Unity. London: Church House Pub., 2001.

Conversations Around the World: The Report of the International Conversations between The Anglican Communion and The Baptist World Alliance. Falls Church, VA: Baptist World Alliance, 2005.

Draper, Jonathan, ed. Communion and Episcopacy: Essays to Mark the Centenary of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Cuddesdon, Oxford: Ripon College Cuddesdon, 1988.

Episcopal Church, and House of Bishops. Eucharistic Presidency: A Theological Statement. London: Church House Pub., 1997.

“Eucharistic Hospitality.” The Ecumenical Review 44, no. 1 (January 1992): 1–90.

Gemeinsame Liturgie in Getrennten Kirchen? Quaestiones Disputatae 132. Freiburg: Herder, 1991.

Guarino, Thomas G. “Bridging the Tiber.” First Things 222 (April 2012): 21–23.

Kirchgässner, Alfons. Interkommunion in Diskussion Und Praxis. Eine Dokumentation. Dokumente Und Manifeste. Düsseldorf: Patmos-Verl., 1971.

Osborne, Kenan B. “Ecumenical Eucharist.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 6, no. 4 (1969): 598–619.

Osheim, Amanda C. “No Turning Back: The Future of Ecumenism.” Anglican Theological Review 99, no. 2 (2017): 406–7.

Rausch, Thomas P. “An Ecumenical Eucharist for a World Assembly.” America. 150 (19840101): 25–29.

Schäfer, Gerhard Karl. Eucharistie Im Ökumenischen Kontext: Zur Diskussion Um Das Herrenmahl in Glauben Und Kirchenverfassung von Lausanne 1927 Bis Lima 1982. Forschungen Zur Systematischen Und Ökumenischen Theologie, Bd. 55. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1988.

Theologische Realenzyklopädie. Berlin ; de Gruyter, 1977.

Tucker, Ansley. “The Historic Episcopate in Anglican Ecclesiology the Esse Persepctive.” Consensus, The Canadian Lutheran-Anglican Dialogue, 12, no. 1 (November 1, 1986): 99–115.

Woolverton, John F. “THE CHICAGO-LAMBETH QUADRILATERAL AND THE LAMBETH CONFERENCES.” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 53, no. 2 (1984): 95–109.

World Conference on Faith and Order, and D. M. Baillie. “Intercommunion; the Report of the Theological Commission Appointed by the Continuation Committee of the World Conference on Faith and Order, Together with a Selection from the Material Presented to the Commission.” Harper, 1952.

  1. Book of Common Prayer, 1662 ↩︎

  2. Book of Common Prayer, 1662 ↩︎

  3. Lancelot Andrewes, “Whit-Sunday Sermon 1625” ↩︎

  4. James 3:1, “we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (NIV) ↩︎