“If you are not baptized, please sit down”

I was recently looking through my notes from my trip a year ago to China and I found this story I had forgotten.

One Sunday I visited one of the major, sanctioned Protestant churches in Beijing. The congregation stood while the pastor prayed over the communion elements. Then, just before the distribution, the pastor made an announcement. “If you are not baptized, please sit down.” About a third of the congregation did so. They watched while the rest of us received communion that was passed through the pews. None who sat down seemed offended. No one stormed out in a huff. This was how things were. They were not baptized yet but looked forward to the day when they were.

So what’s the difference between this church in Beijing and your average Episcopal congregation, where I can never imagine something like this happening?

One difference—and there are many—is that folks are beating down the door of this church in Beijing. I had to wait in line twenty minutes to get into that service. The sanctuary could probably hold 1000 people and it was standing room only that morning. In the Episcopal Church, perhaps, we’re so desperate for folks to come in, we don’t want to do anything that will turn people away.

I’ve written before about how the “open communion” conversation in the Episcopal Church is about much more than the relationship between communion and baptism. However that may be, I was struck to find this story in notes this morning.

What would we think about an Episcopal rector saying the same thing on a Sunday morning?

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