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Seeking a Charitable Orthodoxy

Knowing and owning one’s theological lens is a good thing in pastoral ministry. Theological lenses, however, become problematic in chaplaincy and other ecumenical contexts. In my time as a chaplain at a nursing home and now in a jail, I have personally struggled with how to minister to those with differing theologies from mine while maintaining and affirming my own Anglican commitments. How can I “conform to the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of Christ as this Church has received them” as the ordinal directs while also ministering within a non-Anglican context?1 How can I maintain the received theologies of the Catholic faith on ecclesiology, sacraments, and ordained ministry — which I wholeheartedly believe to be true and right — while also affirming the work of the Holy Spirit all around me?

Weekly, I find myself worshiping and serving in contexts outside of my own tradition alongside great women and men who genuinely desire to serve the Lord. In these contexts, I confront the theological question of whether these other ministers' orders and, thus, the sacraments they preside over are valid — partially or otherwise. My main theological concern is finding a path towards a charitable orthodoxy2 for myself and others. A charitable orthodoxy is a path that allows me to maintain my Anglican commitments while actively affirming the mighty work of the Holy Spirit in the ministries I find myself a part of. Specifically, I seek to find a way of resolving my personal theological conflict with the sacramental validity of the ministers and chaplains I work alongside.

I. Common Understandings

A sad consequence of the Church’s current divided state is that we no longer speak the same language. Words that have a clear and common meaning in one tradition — catholic, apostolic, and evangelical, for example — can have significantly different meanings in another tradition. Within American Protestantism alone, the chasm between a Methodist understanding of theological terms and a Pentecostal understanding is vast enough to make theological discourse3 difficult. When culture, language, and tradition — on top of non-protestant theologies and ecclesiologies — come into play, discourse is problematized further. In ecumenical conversations, defining the meaning of terms, then, is a critical starting place to prevent misunderstandings and ensure that conversation starts from a shared vocabulary and that true discourse can occur.

With the collapse of English colonialism in the 20th Century and the schisms resulting from theological turmoil over women’s ordination and human sexuality — among other weighty issues — in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Anglicanism is not as simple to define as it once was. My use of Anglican here refers to the churches joined in apostolic succession with the Archbishops of York and Canterbury and holding to the ecclesial, theological, and liturgical traditions of the Church of England expressed in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) and the XXXIX Articles of Religion 1562. In North America, prominent Anglican churches are the Episcopal Church (TEC), the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Prior to the great Anglican Realignment of the early 21st Century, the Archbishop of Canterbury — first among equals of Anglican bishops — and the Lambeth Conference — a conference of global Anglican bishops called by the Archbishop of Canterbury about every ten years — were the instruments of unity and coordination in the global communion of Anglican churches. Prior to the breach of the Episcopal Church after the Lambeth Conference of 1998, the Lambeth Conferences — though not technically binding to each local church — were seen as the voice of global Anglicanism.

The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1886 and 1888 has been the driver of Anglican ecumenical engagement for over a hundred years. In its simplicity, it gives the foundations for where conversations about ecumenical engagement and eventual Church unity can begin. The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral is a theological document originating in 1886 with TEC in the United States which was extended and ratified by the Lambeth Conference in 1888. This document covers the four main elements Anglicans see as being the esse of the una sancta ecclesia and the starting point for all ecumenical dialog. First, the Church affirms that the Bible “containeth all things necessary to salvation."4 Second, the Catholic Church affirms the Apostles' and Nicene creeds as being a sufficient explanation and boundary for the faith. Third, that the Catholic Church affirms and practices the two dominical sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. And, fourth, “the historic episcopate, locally adapted” as the sign of visible unity and adherence to apostolic teaching in the Church.5

Seeking a charitable orthodoxy, I will not completely write-off communities outside of the orthodox Christian faith as defined in the Apostles' and Nicene creeds. Anglicans desire to end the Church’s schism, “heal the wounds of the Body of Christ,” and promote “charity” and other “Christian graces” that “the Savior’s prayer, ‘That we all may be one,’ may, in its deepest and truest sense, be speedily fulfilled."6 All churches and other communities that self-identify and claim Christianity are considered ecclesial bodies for the purpose of this work. Churches that hold to the first three signs of the Church defined in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral are considered apostolic. Apostolic churches are part of the one, holy, catholic or universal Church of Jesus Christ — the catholic “big C” Church.

Catholic — with a capital C — churches fulfill all four points of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. 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.

II. Episcopacy & Ecumenism

Anglicans are deeply tied to the historic episcopate. Bishops in apostolic succession from the early Church is an identifier to Anglicans of our Catholic roots and places us mentally and in reality in the via media between Protestant movements and Roman Catholicism. For me, the question of whether a sacrament or another clergy person’s orders are valid stems directly from this core theological and ecclesial belief of Anglicans.

In my Anglican worldview, holy orders are only valid by the laying on of hands by a bishop within the historic succession of the apostolic tradition. If a Baptist or Presbyterian minister were to seek union with an Anglican diocese and wished to serve in the ministry of a priest in the said diocese, she or he would need to be ordained — regardless of her or his ordination in the Baptist or Presbyterian traditions.

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 or whole. Apostolicity is owned by the Church as a whole — laity and clergy — and the historic sign of continued, orthodox teaching of the apostolic faith is the episcopacy in unbroken succession by the laying on of hands. A “godly historic Episcopate” is an “inherent part of the apostolic faith and practice” and is “integral to the fullness and unity of the” Church.7

The question, then, of my view of other Christian ministers is very real for me. Every Thursday I worship at a service in the prison led by Presbyterian and Disciples of Christ ministers. In each service, I have pondered whether the cracker and grape juice consecrated by one outside of apostolic succession — consecrated as a mere memorial rather than an actual transformation — is Communion. No doubt the Holy Spirit is there. No doubt there is meaning and grace conferred by God. But, is it Communion? Does God take an action happening outside the order received by his Church and make it valid for the sake of his innocent children?

At times a Baptist layperson has presided over the worship service in the jail. A person who does not even claim ordination presided over the Lord’s Table. What am I to make of that? Were I visiting this worship service and not in a place of authority, I might decline the wafer and juice so as to avoid the theological question. But, as a chaplain and now member of this parish, I feel the greater sin would be rejecting the invitation to Communion.

My heart wants to extend the validity of the sacraments to all Christian traditions and all Christian situations regardless of whether they are orderly ordained, hold “orthodox” sacramental theologies, or preside “rightly” over the table — orthopraxy. At the same time, my theologies of ecclesiology, sacraments, and liturgy are well-developed and central to my understanding of God and his relationship with and towards humanity. The personal stakes in this issue are high because as a chaplain I am not just a minister of Christ, but also a sign of his Church to an unchurched world. Declining Eucharist at a Christian gathering with other Christians would be understood by most as a theological stance. In chaplaincy, I stand before those outside the Church and unfamiliar with our divisions. By visibly living out the Church’s division before the very people we are called to disciple, a chaplain abstaining from Eucharist or another ritual can be actively working against Jesus' Great Commission.

To rightfully engage this complex issue, I will need to look at it from several angles. First, I will need to analyze the root of my desire to resolve this question for myself and others. Second, I will need to understand why the historic episcopacy and valid orders are so important to my Anglican ecclesiology. Next, the sacrament of Holy Communion will need to be engaged within the context of ecumenical relations with non-episcopal churches. Finally, questions needing action for resolution will need to be identified for constructive engagement.

My view of the ecumenical movement prior to researching my place within it all was not entirely positive. Anglican ecumenical conversations with the Orthodox and Roman churches, in my estimation, was merely a matter of building a historical case for the continued apostolic succession of Anglican bishops and working past the ordination of women. Outside of the Catholic spheres of Christianity, I generally saw ecumenical dialog as poorly thought out theological compromises made by large committees. This initial understanding of the last several decades, even centuries, of ecumenical work could not be further from the truth.

The ecumenical movement seems to follow a similar trajectory to my internal reasons for seeking clarity in how to live charitably within my own orthodoxy in the face of other Christians. Through understanding and deep theological work, the ecumenical movement does not seek compromise, per se, but rather a path forward for deeper Christian unity. This, I have discovered, is the deeper draw of my own engagement with questions of the validity of orders and sacraments.

My initial uncomfortableness with the question stemmed from a misunderstanding of what it meant to question another’s views. To question is not necessarily to critique or judge, but to seek understanding. I truly wish greater unity with other Christians. In seeking answers, I am not judging them less than my own viewpoint, but am honestly seeking a path forward where we both can understand the core boundaries of our theological viewpoints and find a shared path where we can work as closely together as possible.

The ecumenical movement has nuanced and clarified the Anglican position. Apostolicity is owned by the Church as a whole — laity and clergy. It is possible for holy orders in non-episcopal traditions to be valid and apostolic without apostolic episcopal ordination. The critical consideration in Anglican ecumenical dialog seems to be that some signs of the historic oversight exercised by bishops is present in the non-episcopal communion and that the non-episcopal church does not reject the validity of the historic episcopacy. Further, the non-episcopal body should be open to receiving the gift of this sign for the unity of the Church.

Reconciliation and ecumenical relationships between churches, then, are bi-lateral. The burden does not sit with a single party and definitely does not sit with me alone. In my previous engagement with the question at hand, I felt like I was unchurching fellow sisters and brothers in Christ. This was farthest from my intent! To see, however, the conversation towards unity has two sides and requires bi-later engagement, is a great personal relief to my theological task.

III. Plene Esse & the Holy Spirit

“For a long time the Conference on Faith and Order shied away from and avoided directly addressing this problem [ecumenical Eucharist]. It was the type of issue so loaded with emotional dynamite, that we feared it might with the first little thrust set off a spark that would explode our entire movement into pieces.” Dr. Leonard Hodgson.8

The great scandal of the 20th and 21st century Church is this, though we have done great work in recognizing each other’s work in the Kingdom of God and the validity of our shared baptism in the Body of Christ, we still cannot fully share in the Sacrament of Jesus' Body and Blood at his Holy Table. Despite all of our progress. Despite all of our goodwill. Despite the moments where Church unity seems real and visible. At Holy Communion, the schism in the Church is painfully visible for all to see. Here, the illusions of our great ecumenical progress seem to fall completely apart. When Christians from diverse traditions come together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper the air is indeed “loaded with emotional dynamite."9

In the Anglican tradition, Holy Communion is the central focus of our worship. All things in our Sunday liturgy point to the Table. Anglicans affirm that Christ is fully present in Eucharist and that true, transformative grace is imparted. Embracing the holy mysteries of God, Anglicans do not define the how or precisely what of Holy Communion other than to reject the Roman formulation of Trent, transubstantiation, as the definitive explanation.10 Eucharist is God inviting us to his table, Christ being physically in our midst, and God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — feeding us his grace to empower us for the praxis of Christian life in the world outside of the worship service.

Eucharist is the center of much controversy and emotion in the ecumenical life of the presently divided Church. At the celebration of Eucharist questions more easily ignored or set aside in other contexts come clearly and powerfully to the forefront. Primary among these issues are the validity of various church governance structures and thus the validity of ordinations, sacraments, and teachings within those structures. For the Catholic Traditions, episcopal church governance under bishops in valid apostolic succession are a part of the very esse of the Church. If validity of another ecclesial body’s apostolic succession is questionable or the other body is missing or rejects apostolic episcopal oversight, the very nature and being of the other body is called into question. Even when the heart calls for unity and cooperation with non-episcopal bodies, it is difficult to find a path forward without directly contradicting one’s own confession and construal of the esse of the Church.

The first three points of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral — the Bible as the word of God, the Apostles' and Nicene creeds as a sufficient boundary of the Faith, and the active practice of the dominical sacraments — are easily affirmed by the vast majority of global Christians. It is, however, the fourth point that has caused much pain and theological questioning between Anglicans and other Christians. Is the historic episcopacy truly so critical to the esse of the Church that Presbyterians or Baptists should be excluded from the Church catholic? Is it possible to accept non-episcopal churches as valid and visible members of the una sancta ecclesia without contradicting the Catholic Traditions' gift of apostolic succession? In Anglicanism, there are three leading schools of thought with different answers to these questions.

The first school of thought can be called the esse school. In this more traditional and often Anglo-Catholic leaning viewpoint, non-episcopal communities just do not constitute valid expressions of the Church.11 Non-episcopal churches, thus, do not preside over valid sacraments. In this view, individual members of these communities, if baptized in the “name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” are valid baptized Christians, but they are not a member of the Church or possess valid apostolic authority to preside over the Lord’s Table. The historic episcopacy — as the only means for the transmission of the apostolic authority originating from Christ’s establishment of the Church — is totally and completely bound to the very esse of the Church. Though God’s grace is active all around, the una sancta ecclesia must by very nature be the ecclesia apostolica through direct succession of bishops “by prayer with the laying on of hands in claimed unbroken historical continuity from the time of the apostles."12

At the other extreme of the esse school of thought is the more Reformed view of the historic episcopacy being a part of the bene esse of the Church.13 Bishops, in this viewpoint, are a historic marker of the Church. In times past, bishops were a visible sign that a community could be trusted to be teaching the “authentic message of Jesus and the apostles."14 However, during the Reformation for various historical reasons many faithful Christians lost the episcopacy. In this view, “the Church as a whole” lives the vita apostolica.15 “The witness to the gospel has been entrusted to the Church as a whole. Therefore the whole Church as the ecclesia apostolica stands in apostolic succession."16 If a non-episcopal church has remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles and lives as a Catholic and apostolic body — seeing itself not as a sect, but a member of the one holy Catholic Church —, then it’s existence and orders can be seen as valid and apostolic without question. Episcopacy, then, is a historical tradition worthy of continuing, but not critical to the nature of the Church.

The third Anglican view of the nature of the historic episcopacy in the Church, plene esse, is a mediating view originating out of the lived ecumenical experiences of the 20th Century. Non-episcopally organized churches lack the fullness of the vita apostolica and are in a limited sense a “defekte Kirche” — a defective church.17 In this view, non-episcopal churches are only a “defekte Kirche” because they are missing the historic sign of faithful adherence to the teachings of the apostles and continuity and unity with the Catholic Church, the episcopacy. A “defekte Kirche” can gain fullness by entering “a relationship of mutual participation in episcopal ordinations with a church which has retained the historical episcopal succession."18 A church can “embrace this sign” of bishops “without denying its past apostolic continuity."19

If the historic episcopacy is part of the esse or bene esse of the Church then answers to ecumenical questions of ecclesial and sacramental validity are relatively easy to answer from the Anglican perspective. If of the plain esse of the Church non-episcopal churches are de-churched. Everyone is voted off the island, as it were, and the only way back into the Church is for total and full reintegration into the historic episcopate — including re-ordination of ministers and changes to church governance. If of the bene esse of the Church, everyone is already valid in the eyes of Anglicans and only conversations and praxis are needed to realize visibly the apostolic unity already present in the still divided Church.

To my eyes, the esse view of the historic episcopacy makes the most sense at face value. If from the earliest days of Church history the office of bishop is clearly the visible sign of apostolic teaching and if the Church through the ages was so careful to faithfully continue an unbroken chain of consecration by the laying on of hands, then the episcopacy is clearly a part of the very esse of Christ’s Holy Church. At the same time, my own “ecumenical encounter” with various Protestant traditions forces me to “recognize the one Holy Spirit of truth” present in the ministry of non-episcopal churches.20 The episcopacy, then, must for me be of the plene esse of the Church. Anglicanism, as a whole, has come to this conclusion as well. In full-communion agreements in North American, India, and England with Lutherans,21 Methodists,22 and Reformed/Baptists23, Anglican bodies were able to accept the past and present ministries of non-episcopal ordinations only after these bodies accepted the historic episcopacy and episcopal ordinations going forward.

The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1886/1888 and the plene esse view of the historic episcopacy give a clear trajectory and framework for visible Church unity or “full-communion,” but they do not clearly speak into the liminal space between now and the future. The question remains of what one is to do when full-communion has not yet happened and the episcopacy has not yet been restored. What is the status of the Eucharist of a “defekte Kirche”?

Bishops in apostolic succession are for Anglicans a sign and token of our intent as a catholic body. To hold to the historic episcopacy is to point to the unity of the Church in the past and the unity we know we will experience in future under Christ’s reign. As a semi-Protestant Church, we see the episcopacy as a gift we hold and offer for the entire Body of Christ. Unity with the Roman and Eastern churches cannot happen without the sign of the historic episcopacy. Protestant churches often forget the ecumenical truth that, visible Christian unity cannot happen without the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy, who are a large portion of global Christians. Though Anglicans do not necessarily see the historic episcopacy as the total esse of the Church, we hold it as the bene esse of her witness and a critical element for Church unity.24

For Anglicans, ministry outside of the historic episcopacy is valid because the whole Church holds the apostolic witness. However, not having a sign or token and rejecting it entirely are two different things. Doctrinally non-episcopal churches place a roadblock in relationship with Anglicans. They are 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.

In Anglican engagement with other traditions, full communion came only after the non-episcopal body accepted the sign of apostolic bishops. In these engagements, non-episcopally ordained ministers continued to be seen as valid as the intent at their ordination was that they were ordained as ministers to the universal Church and not a particular sect. In accepting the episcopacy, future ordinations would return to the good order received historically by the Church and unity in both action and reality would be achieved.

Dr. Leonard Hodgson was an Anglican priest and served as Theological Secretary to the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches from 1933 to 1952. During Dr. Hodgson’s tenure, the Commission on Faith and Order was tasked with researching and writing on the great debate of ecumenical Eucharist. In his essay “Anglicanism and Intercommunion” Dr. Hodgson struggles with the reality of the present divided moment in light of his vision of the future.25 Holding a plene esse view of the episcopacy, Dr. Hodgson forges a path that recognizes the nature of the Church while also leaning on a strong understanding of the Holy Spirit.

In the present situation, full-communion — total recognition between two churches of each other’s ministry and sacraments — is not yet possible between the vast majority of churches. We cannot yet experience full unity, but through the Holy Spirit, there is a path to intercommunion. Intercommunion is when two churches open their Tables to each other. Neither body is in full unity yet and, in the case of Anglicans, the full essence of the Church’s apostolicity has not yet been received, but both bodies recognize each other as members of the una sancta ecclesia and see merit and even validity in each other’s orders and sacraments.

In Hodgson’s view, “every sacrament is what God makes it, and to regard any sacrament as deficient is to believe that God withholds from it the fullness of the gift which it is intended to convey."26 Just as Holy Spirit fell upon the apostles in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit falls upon the Body of Christ when it is gathered together. To “speak depreciatively” about another — non-episcopal — church’s sacraments “is a blasphemous contradiction” of our Christian understanding of who the Holy Spirit is and what God can do in his Church.27 The argument then is not about the validity of a non-episcopal church’s sacraments, but the validity of God’s “sacramental activity” in non-episcopal bodies.28 Hodgson suggests that Anglicans "can be faithful to both” our desire to uphold the historic episcopacy and Christian charity to Protestant churches not yet in full-communion with us “if we distinguish between God's will for His Church in its unity and His will for it in its present divided condition."29

Recognizing the work on the Holy Spirit and the mystery of God’s works in the world, Anglicans can embrace the “zeitgenössische, einzigartiges Werk des Heiligen Geistes” — present, unique work of the Holy Spirit — in our midst today.30 By holding to the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, expending of the esse view of episcopacy and moving towards a plene esse view, and by recognizing the powerful mysterious work of the Holy Spirit in the Church, Anglicans have the tools we need so that “we may in practice recognize the equality of the sacraments of our fellow Christians from whom for the time being we are divided."31

IV. Praxis for Charitable Orthodoxy

Starting with the Chicago statement of Protestant Episcopal Church in 1886 and culminating with the great ecumenical work Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry32 coming out of Lima in 1984, much academic and theological work has been done within and outside Anglican Christianity on the path towards visible unity in the Church. Unfortunately, outside of the guidance provided on intercommunion at Lambeth 1930 and Intercommunion To-day33 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.

The great hope of the post-WWII ecumenical movement is, I think, sadly dead. The Spirit was, indeed, moving among the churches and significant 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 20th Century. Unfortunately, the secularization and further liberalization of ecclesial bodies in the late 20th and early 21st centuries have brought further obstacles to Christian unity.

Ecumenical settings, thankfully, still abound in the lives of many Christians and pose an opportunity where the Holy Spirit can again move in our midst and build the Church towards a visible 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 typical 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.

There are many situations where Anglican laity and clergy might need direction on whether they should or should not commune or preside. 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 and fifty years, I provide below general best practices for Anglicans in various situations where Eucharist is celebrated. The focus of all the best practices is to faithfully live out the Lord’s call to “make disciples” of all the world within the received Catholic tradition of the English church while recognizing and standing alongside the mighty work of the Holy Spirit in our midst.

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.34 Second, is that Eucharist is a means of grace that contributes to and feeds the Body with that required to build unity.35 Per the Lambeth Conference of 1930, Anglican bishops were given freedom to open Anglican tables in their dioceses to all baptized Christians in “certain circumstances” including ecumenical gatherings “for the purpose of setting forward the cause of unity."36 Anglicans were also authorized to “communicate at non-episcopal services” when Anglican “ministrations” were not “available for long periods of time or without traveling great distances.” These situations of shared Eucharist between Anglicans and non-episcopal Christians opened a clear theological path towards opening Anglican tables to all baptized Christians.37 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 the English tradition, and faithfully come to the altar 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.38 No matter our poor theology, unclear thoughts, or sins, he is “the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy."39

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 are valid — it does not mean you do not 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 do not 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.40

In non-ecumenical settings it is entirely up to one’s personal theology whether one communes or not. If three-fold episcopal orders of bishop, priest, and deacon 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, are 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 falsehood to a priest. In general, one should think carefully about this and err towards refraining from communing except in cases when one is moved strongly by the Holy Spirit.

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.41

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 layperson 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.42 The formularies of the English Church hold a robust 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 20th 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 layperson. 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,43 we cannot knowingly lead a fellow clergy person 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.

Who should concelebrate at a non-episcopally ordered Eucharist?

Non-presbyters cannot preside over the sacrament of Holy Communion in the Anglican tradition. In Eucharistic Presidency44 the English House of Bishops draws multiple theological reasons why this is incompatible with the Anglican understanding of the Church. It is all rooted in our understanding of who the Triune God is and what his purposes for the Church are. The validity of orders, then, for an Anglican clergy person becomes critical to understanding when one can concelebrate Eucharist with another minister and when one cannot. Outside of concelebrating something which is not celebrated in the first place — lay presidency — to concelebrate outside of the historical, apostolic, episcopal tradition and the signs/tokens (bishops) of the Church, is to break communion with the history and timelessness of the Church. Concelebration requires communion and a type of unity not found when the mutual affirmation of apostolic orders are not shared.

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 does not 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.

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.


The genesis of this project came during my first few weeks participating and leading worship in an ecumenical service in a county jail. Within the cold, white cinderblock walls of the jail, I experienced the powerful movement of the Holy Spirit and saw grown men cry as they encountered the Living God and the life he enterally gifts us.45 In those same services, I was confronted with an ecumenical crises as the jail church ordo progressed to its climax of individually sealed wafers and grape juice consecrated outside the Catholic tradition. To take the bread and juice as Holy Communion would be to contradict the received Catholic theologies of my Anglican Christian faith. To decline the bread and juice would be an act of disunity with the very men of Christ’s own Body who I am called into solitary and service. What the ordo meant as the doxological telos of Christian worship had turned, for me, into a great discomfort and place of extreme confusion. Seemingly nothing in my Anglican tradition provided a path to faithfully and joyfully live into the worshiping jail community I was called to be a part of.

Opening each Anglican Eucharist service is the Collect for Purity. In this ancient prayer, Anglicans affirm God’s omnipotence — “to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid” — and ask him to “cleanse the thoughts of our hearts” that cleansed we may “perfectly love [him], and worthily magnify [his] holy Name."46 In Ecumenical settings as a chaplain, this prayer weighed heavy on my heart. Though I had determined to partake of bread and grape juice at non-episcopal worship services, I knew God knew my heart and the reality of my uncharitable discomfort. I knew I was not “worthily magnifying” God. Thankfully, Christians never approach the Table or theology alone. In our questioning and our groaning we “join our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven."47 Christ’s Holy Church throughout the ages always guides to God’s greater light.

In the end the received tradition of the Church did not point me to deeper theology or long-forgotten cannons or Ecumenical statements to heal my pain. The balm for my discomfort was the same Holy Spirit whose presence launched this entire project in the first place. In my search for a clear path to define the what and how of non-episcopal Eucharist, I discovered the deep beauty and mystery of God already present, affirmed, and celebrated in the Anglican tradition. After Communion we pray thanking God for “feeding us, in these holy mysteries” and assuring us thereby “that we are true members of the mystical body” of Jesus Christ and the “blessed company of all faithful people."48 Doxology and awe towards God’s immense power and mysterious beauty is the balm for the deep discomfort of the Church’s schism.

By truly allowing the Holy Spirit to open my heart and cleanse me to a charitable orthodoxy, I was finally able to “worthily magnify” the great work God the Father is doing to reconcile his children with each other and, finally, to himself through Jesus Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Unity can only come through hearts open to the mysterious workings of the Holy Spirit. In Ecumenical Eucharist services it is best to look away from the ordo and ritual and instead look outward and upward for the mighty work God is doing in his creation. God cannot be tamed and we should embrace the ambiguity and beauty of his mysteries.

V. Addendum: Pronouns for God; An Explanation

I am presently working through the ordination process of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). As a postulant for holy orders I am already expected by my bishop and the greater Church to uphold the covenants I will make with God and to his Church in my ordination vows. One of my vows will be to “reverently obey [my] Bishop […] according to the Canons of the Church."49 The canons of the ACNA include the Articles of Religion,50 the Prayer Book of 1662, the proposed texts of the ACNA Prayer Book of 2019,51 the catholic creeds,52 and the ACNA catechism,53 among others. By vow, by personal choice, by adherence to my Anglican tradition, and out of a faithful desire to serve my community, I hold to these standards in all my theological work.

In the liturgy of my tradition and by teaching in the catechism, the first person of the Trinity is named God the Father. Further, the second person of the Trinity, named God the Son, through the Incarnation took on human form as the male human being, Jesus Christ. Further still, the catechism teaches that because Jesus Christ called God “Abba, Father”, used masculine language for God, and taught his disciples to do the same (Matt 6:9, Rom 8:15-17, Gal 4:4-7) Anglicans, to remain faithful to apostolic teaching and the catholic tradition of the Church, are to follow Christ’s example.54

By using masculine language for God, I do not desire to imply a superiority of the biological sexes. Scripture clearly teaches the equality of all people in the Body of Christ (Gal 3:28). I do not intend to set a general rule for the universal Church to follow or reject fellowship with those who do not follow my practice or the Anglican tradition. For me, the use of masculine language for God is a sign of faithfulness to my community and a matter of integrity so that I can with clear conscience make the vows I will be required to make at my ordination.


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 Church in North America. Texts for Common Prayer: Containing Forms for Daily Morning Prayer, Daily Evening Prayer and the Holy Communion, as Approved by the College of Bishops for Use within the Province; Together with the Ordinal of the Anglican Church in North America A.D. 2013. Newport Beach, Calif.: Anglican House Publishers, 2013.

———. Texts for Common Prayer II. Newport Beach, Calif.: Anglican Liturgy Press, 2018.

Anglican Church in North America, and Catechesis Task Force. To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism. Ambridge, PA: Anglican House Pub Inc, 2014.

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.

“Called to Common Mission: A Relationship of Full Communion between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American and The Episcopal Church.” New York, NY, 2000 1999. []{.underline}.

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}.

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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.

Rutledge, Fleming. “What Is Generous Orthodoxy? A Statement of Purpose.” Generous Orthodoxy (blog). Accessed November 27, 2018. []{.underline}.

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.

Tanner, Kathryn. Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology. 1st Fortress Press ed. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001.

Theologische Realenzyklopädie. Berlin ; de Gruyter, 1977.

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

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

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  1. Anglican Church in North American, The Ordinal of the Anglican Church in North America. ↩︎

  2. I borrow here from Rev. Fleming Rutledge’s blog, Generous Orthodoxy and her thoughts on what a generous orthodoxy looks like. ↩︎

  3. The discourse required here is best explained in the first chapter of Rowan Williams On Christian Theology↩︎

  4. XXXIX Articles; VI “Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation” ↩︎

  5. Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral 1888 ↩︎

  6. Chicago Resolution (TEC), 1886 ↩︎

  7. Anglican Church in North America, Fundamental Declarations of the Province↩︎

  8. Schäfer, Eucharistie Im Ökumenischen Kontext, 92. ↩︎

  9. Ibid. ↩︎

  10. XXXIX Articles; XXVIII “Of the Lord’s Supper” ↩︎

  11. Schäfer, Eucharistie Im Ökumenischen Kontext, 126. ↩︎

  12. Church of England and House of Bishops, Apostolicity and Succession, 3. ↩︎

  13. Schäfer, Eucharistie Im Ökumenischen Kontext, 126. ↩︎

  14. Anglican-Reformed International Commission, God’s Reign and Our Unity, para. 89. ↩︎

  15. Church of England and House of Bishops, Apostolicity and Succession, 9. ↩︎

  16. Ibid., 4. ↩︎

  17. Schäfer, Eucharistie Im Ökumenischen Kontext, 126. ↩︎

  18. The Porvoo Common Statement ↩︎

  19. Ibid. ↩︎

  20. Church of England and House of Bishops, Apostolicity and Succession, 2. ↩︎

  21. “Called to Common Mission: A Relationship of Full Communion between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American and The Episcopal Church” (New York, NY, 2000 1999), []{.underline}. ↩︎

  22. 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). ↩︎

  23. 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). ↩︎

  24. Faith and Order Paper, no. 111, Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry, 32. ↩︎

  25. World Conference on Faith and Order, “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.”, 258-268. ↩︎

  26. Ibid., 265. ↩︎

  27. Ibid. ↩︎

  28. Ibid. ↩︎

  29. Ibid. ↩︎

  30. Schäfer, Eucharistie Im Ökumenischen Kontext, 127. ↩︎

  31. World Conference on Faith and Order, “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.”, 268. ↩︎

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

  33. Church of England et al., Intercommunion To-Day: Being the Report of the Archbishops' Commission on Intercommunion. (London: Church Information Office, 1968). ↩︎

  34. Schäfer, Eucharistie Im Ökumenischen Kontext, 98. & Church of England, Intercommunion To-Day, 50. ↩︎

  35. Ibid., 95-96. ↩︎

  36. World Conference on Faith and Order, “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.”, 262-263. ↩︎

  37. Ibid. ↩︎

  38. Book of Common Prayer, 1662 ↩︎

  39. Ibid. ↩︎

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

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

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

  43. Anglican Church in North American, The Ordinal of the Anglican Church in North America. ↩︎

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

  45. The idea of God’s eternal and limitless gifting to humanity comes from Tanner’s Jesus Humanity, and the Trinity↩︎

  46. Anglican Church in North America, Texts for Common Prayer II, 95. ↩︎

  47. Ibid., 104. ↩︎

  48. Ibid., 110. ↩︎

  49. Anglican Church in North America, Texts for Common Prayer: Containing Forms for Daily Morning Prayer, Daily Evening Prayer and the Holy Communion, as Approved by the College of Bishops for Use within the Province; Together with the Ordinal of the Anglican Church in North America A.D. 2013 (Newport Beach, Calif.: Anglican House Publishers, 2013), 128. ↩︎

  50. Articles of Religion of the Church of England (London, England: 1571). ↩︎

  51. Anglican Church in North America, Texts for Common Prayer↩︎

  52. Nicene, Athanasian, and Apostles' ↩︎

  53. Anglican Church in North America and Catechesis Task Force, To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism (Ambridge, PA Anglican House Pub Inc, 2014). ↩︎

  54. Ibid., 39. ↩︎