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Rector’s Letter January 2017

The beginning of a new year is a time to look forward to new challenges and opportunities. 2017 presents our parish with a specific challenge and opportunity. Last September the Bishops of the Church in Wales issued a pastoral letter to all the members of the Church in Wales declaring that from Advent Sunday 2016 anyone baptised with water in the name of the Holy Trinity is welcome to receive Communion. The Bishops’ letter is printed in this magazine for you to read and as it deals with the reasons behind the change I won’t repeat them here. If you want further information on the matter you can also download material from the Doctrinal Commission on the Church in Wales website. Our challenge and opportunity is to respond to the Bishops’ call to invite all the baptised to receive Our Lord in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

This is a major change in the practice of our Church. Up to now the normal pattern has been: Baptism (usually in infancy), followed by Confirmation (usually at puberty) leading to First Communion. Most people reading this letter will have experienced this pattern in their own lives. Communion has normally been restricted to those who have been Confirmed. It’s true that in recent years the Church in Wales has modified this pattern to the extent that parishes could opt-in to a scheme by which children of junior age could be prepared for First Communion, with Confirmation following at a later age. But now the Bishops have simply decreed that anyone who is baptised will be able to receive Communion.

Although the official date for this change was Advent Sunday 2016, it is recognised that it will take some time for Parishes and Ministry Areas to fully implement this new policy. The matter was brought to our Parochial Church Council in November but I decided to leave it until the hectic period of Advent and Christmas was over to begin to plan how we should implement the policy in the parish of Llandudno. I must stress that it will not be a matter of whether we implement it or not as this is now the official teaching of the Church in Wales. Our task will be to discuss how we deal with it in our parish.

It is especially with respect to children that this change of practice will require a great deal of thought. Baptised children, even of quite a young age, will be able to receive Communion, though those under 5 will have to receive in one kind only because the law forbids the giving of alcohol to them. For older children parental consent will be needed before they receive the sacramental wine. The children themselves will of course need to be prepared for the first occasion when they will be offered the Sacrament. We will also need to decide how we are to explain the new practice to adults who haven’t been Confirmed but are regular or occasional worshippers – how to encourage them to receive Communion and to prepare them for this.

Confirmation will, of course, no longer be the gateway to Communion, nor a ‘rite of passage’ for adolescent young people as it has been in the past. It is envisaged that it will be seen as the sacrament in which a Christian will be commissioned for their adult discipleship of Christ, a kind of ‘lay ordination’ if you like. We’ll need to discuss how we encourage the continuing use of this sacrament.

So there will be a lot to think about and plan for as we prepare for this change. The first stage of this preparation will be for me to begin discussions with the Children & Families Group, the Sunday School, and Ysgol San Sior. This will be followed by an open meeting for all parishioners to be held directly after the Sung Eucharist on Sunday 15th January at which any questions or worries people have can be discussed. Finally the PCC will be asked to approve the final plan and hopefully we will implement it on Mothering Sunday – 26th March. That will be the day on which in our parish Holy Communion will be officially open to all the baptised.

Many of you may have misgivings about this change. It is certainly a major departure from what we are used to. Do come along to the meeting on Sunday ……or come and have a chat with me if there are questions you wish to ask or things you want to discuss. You might well be asking ‘What does Fr. John think about it’. Well this is what I think – I wholeheartedly agree with our Bishops that it is indeed Baptism which makes us a Christian and therefore that, in theory at least, any baptised person should be able to receive Communion – it should not depend upon going through hoops like having to be Confirmed, or being able to ‘understand’ what it’s all about. Who does really understand this mystery anyway? It’s a matter of God’s grace and nobody is ‘worthy’ to receive Communion. I have no doubts that children should be able to do so, or adults who are not regular attenders at church. However I think I would have preferred it if the Bishops had included a requirement for a least a short course of preparation for those wishing to receive Communion for the first time, just to help them appreciate the importance of this action in their lives.

There’s a lot to think and pray about in the weeks ahead! It certainly presents a challenge to us but surely also an opportunity – the opportunity to deepen our relationship with Christ in the Eucharist and to help others, both children and adults to want to encounter him there.

Fr. John

The Church, as the Body of Christ, has both Word and Sacrament to nourish and sustain its members. Down through the centuries, the Church has been called to the faithful preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments as part of God’s mission and witness to his Kingdom.

From about the fifth century, it became common in the western Church to separate the Sacrament of Baptism (in which a person is joined to the Body of Christ, and sacramentally with Christ’s death and resurrection) from the ceremony of Confirmation, when the bishop, as chief pastor, welcomes the newly baptised, and lays hands upon them praying for the strengthening of the Holy Spirit. From the thirteenth century, it became customary also not to admit anyone to the Sacrament of Holy Communion unless or until they had received the sacramental act of Confirmation.

Thus three ceremonies which the early Church had held together were separated, and the pattern was established with which Anglicans are familiar (of Baptism in infancy, of Confirmation at puberty, and Communion thereafter). These developments seemed expedient at the time that they were implemented, but in so doing, a great truth was obscured: the Sacrament of Baptism, commanded by Our Lord, is in fact the whole ceremony, entire and complete in itself, by which a person is incorporated into Christ, and recognised as a Christian.

In the Church today, there are many who believe that the witness of the Church to Jesus Christ, and the process of nurturing children and young people in the Christian faith, would be immeasurably strengthened by recovering this earliest symbolism. Baptism alone should be seen as the gateway into participation in the life of the Church, including admission to the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

In conjunction with advice from the Doctrinal Commission of the Church in Wales, and from the Governing Body, the Bench of Bishops wishes now to re-adopt the practice of the early Church with respect to admission to Holy Communion. It is our conviction that all the baptised, by virtue of their Baptism alone, are full members of the Body of Christ and qualified to receive Holy Communion.

We have taken note of the existing rubrics and the teaching found in the Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer of the Church in Wales. We have also taken advice also from the Legal Sub-Committee of the Governing Body and have been given the assurance that such a step does not require any change in the present Canon Law or Constitution of the Church in Wales. We have also received advice from them of civil law implications in taking this step.

With all this in mind, as of the First Sunday of Advent this year, 27th November 2016, we are giving permission for all those who are baptised in water and in the name of the Holy Trinity, to receive Holy Communion at the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist within our dioceses and jurisdictions. None is required so to receive, but no barrier should be erected to prevent all the baptised from making their Communion, other than that which is required by civil law.

Of course, this decision raises important questions for the life of the Church. We have asked for assistance in preparing materials which can be used in our parishes and Ministry and Mission Areas to instruct the faithful on the meaning and significance of this change.

Since we remain, as a Church, committed to the Baptism of Infants, even the youngest of children would be entitled to receive Holy Communion under these provisions. However, while this will be permitted by the theology of the Church, it will not always be appropriate to administer Communion in both kinds. The civil law does not permit the administration of alcohol to children under the age of five, and even thereafter parental permission is required before a child may receive Communion from the chalice. It will be important for parishes and clergy to establish good practice by ensuring that clear records are kept of what permissions are given, and Communion in all other cases would have to be in the one kind (the bread).

In lifting the customary barriers to Communion, we are mindful that this opens out as well a new and strengthened understanding of the Rite of Confirmation. It will be no longer the gateway to Communion, but take its proper place in the sacramental acts of the Church as a channel of God’s grace, affirming disciples of their place in the fellowship of the Church and commissioning them for service in the Church and world. We have asked the Standing Liturgical Advisory Commission to prepare work on a new Rite of Confirmation that will reflect more clearly this understanding.

We entrust the Church in Wales to God’s good care and grace, and pray that, as we acknowledge the place of all the baptised at the Eucharist, he may renew our life in him and the commission we receive to his service, so that we might all grow in grace, and bear witness to his love in the world.

The Bench of Bishops
September 2016

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