Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Are we "overprotecting the Lord?"

Lindsey Urwin, Anglican Bishop of Horsham in southern England, contributed a chapter in Mission-Shaped Questions: Defining issues for today's church, which I found provocative and forward thinking. Urwin talks about bishops, and I would argue, all of us in the church, being in danger of "overprotecting the Lord," the way we so strictly administer the sacraments with rules and regulations.

For a bishop to write about the ways that he has allowed for the bending of rules and "risky exceptions" in order to allow for the spirit to move freely is really refreshing.

Urwin tells about the ordination of a man named Derek in the midst of a congregation called Eden. Eden was a new congregation, attracting more than 100 people of all ages, with a coffee bar, and variety of liturgical expressions. Urwin's description of finding his place and incorporating his style and traditional liturgics with the rap style Gospel reading, playing of a film clip, and litany written and sung by young people with drums and bass tracks in the background was so awesome! I can just imagine the environment and thanks be to God for Urwin's flexibility and willingness to embrace this community and see the Holy Spirit at work! He joined in the celebration, even dancing and getting down to what he says was a "funky and uplifting remix of 'How Great Thou Art.'"

He later describes a newly founded congregation called, The Point, where he celebrated with them their first baptisms, confirmations, and Eucharist. At the service some young people who had already been baptized wanted to be immersed again in water, reclaiming their baptism, and Urwin, using his creativity, suggested for them to instead engage with the water on their own and then be confirmed, although he admits he's suspicious that some had already been confirmed!

As the church moves forward and experiments with liturgy in new, fresh ways, we need our bishops and elders to be part of the movement. We need their energy, their acceptance, and their carrying on of the old traditions and rituals that have meant so much and made our church what it is today. The laying on of hands during the ordaining of a new priest is sacred, special, and life changing. We honor that.

The breaking of the bread, and recognition that Christ died for us, and the filling of ourselves with Christ's body and blood leaves us transformed, renewed, refreshed. And we honor that.

Sacraments must be shared and experienced by all, as they draw us into an encounter with the Living Christ.

So is it okay sometimes to do things out of order?

Is it okay to allow someone to join in the feast of the Eucharist in order to experience Christ, before they have been baptized?

I believe it is. As Urwin said, "God is well used to people doing things in the wrong order." How amazing to hear from a bishop that sometimes we need to loosen up a little bit and chill out with regard to rules and regulations. AMEN!


  1. Many of us struggle with the idea that "the feast of the Eucharist" is actually God's feast not ours. As churches begin to see the benefit of easing up on the baptism rule, those who feel pushed away by the church have an opportunity to reconcile.

    The first time I took communion at MCC Lubbock I considered myself to be an agnostic. And was so desperate for a connection with humans that I stepped forward to receive the bread and wine. Now I recognize that I was also desperate for a connection with God. AND thank God the leaders of the church had eased up on the rules and regulations.

  2. I love this post, I am recognizing more and more that God does not need us to stand guard over the church making sure that it is "done right". In fact throughout his ministry Jesus upset the traditions and regulations that served as a barrier to relationship with God. I believe that as prophetic leaders we are called to look at how the traditions of the church can be honored without refusing anyone a seat at the table. After all as Sandy said it is not our feast. We are also invited, and might I add unworthy guests!

  3. Great post! Isn't it interesting to think we have any handle at all on THE right order for worshipping God? Sort of crazy thinking, really. I'm guessing that God cares a lot more about how we treat each other and whether we worship God than if we are busy ensuring that God's people are baptized before they share in Christ's body and blood!