A couple of weeks ago, I highlighted K. Connie Kang’s story in the Los Angeles Times about an interfaith worship service hosted by the Los Angeles Episcopal Diocese. She wrote a detailed report that included the observation that Hindus had been invited to take communion during the service.
Well, as you may remember, a few days later the Times updated the story with a correction that softened that observation a bit:
FOR THE RECORD: Hindu-Episcopal service: An article in Sunday’s California section about a joint religious service involving Hindus and Episcopalians said that all those attending the service at St. John’s Cathedral in Los Angeles were invited to Holy Communion. Although attendees walked toward the Communion table, only Christians were encouraged to partake of Communion. Out of respect for Hindu beliefs, the Hindus were invited to take a flower. Also, the article described Hindus consuming bread during Communion, but some of those worshipers were Christians wearing traditional Indian dress.
The story — and the correction — were important because The Episcopal Church teaches that only baptized Christians are to receive communion. Pat Ashworth wrote an article for the Church Times (U.K.) about how the story was reported. Ashworthy actually interviewed Karen MacQueen, the preacher and celebrant for the service. MacQueen said that it was understood by those in attendance that Christians were to receive communion while Hindus were to receive flowers from a tray on the altar:
“One has to understand how important this is for both Christians and Hindus. For Christians, we understand that holy communion is for the baptised. Hindus, especially religious leaders, do not want to be co-opted into a situation where they are expected to act as if they are Christians.”
Ms MacQueen said that she had worked very hard to get the trust of the many Hindu leaders who were guests at the service. “The trust would have been destroyed if these leaders had thought that I would invite or expect them to receive communion at a Christian mass,” she said.
Some noted that the Times‘ correction still left the possibility that Hindus received communion at the service. Indeed, someone who identified himself as a vestry member, thurifer, chorister, subdeacon, and occasional preacher at St. Paul’s Pomona, where MacQueen is the associate rector, said the following in an online discussion:
I attended the Indian Rite Mass and received communion. No one was refused communion, and that’s the way it should be. Jesus ate with tax collectors and prostitutes. Surely he does not mind a Hindu or two at his table.
In another venue, the same observer wrote:
Yes, Communion was in fact offered by general invitation with each person invited to participate in whatever manner their conscience permitted.
Indeed, some Episcopal clergy have been quite open about their belief that communion should not be restricted to those who are baptized Christians. I’ve personally witnessed the offering of communion to all people, regardless of whether they are baptized or not, on two occasions. So I’d be curious to read more stories about where bishops stand on this practice. And it would still be nice to get some reportage on how the Episcopal Church enforces its canons.
I also came across another article about MacQueen that is begging for additional research. New American Media, which aggregates stories of interest to ethnic minorities, had an interesting angle on the service:
The Bishop of the Epsicopal diocese of Los Angeles has issued an apology to Hindus worldwide for what he called “centuries-old acts of religious discrimination by Christians, including attempts to convert them” reports India Abroad. The apology was given in a statement read to over 100 Hindu spiritual leaders at a mass from Right Reverend J John Bruno. The ceremony started with a Hindu priestess blowing a conch shell three times and included sacred chants.
This meeting was the result of a dialogue, started three years ago, between Hindu leaders and Rev. Karen MacQueen, who was deeply influenced by Hindu Vedanta philosophy and opposes cultivating conversions. “There are enough Christians in the world,” she said. “What we need to see is more Christians leading an exemplary life and truly loving their fellow man.” However the apology has triggered considerable debate among pastors across the US.
While I’m sure very few people would argue with MacQueen’s second point, I imagine quite a few people would be scandalized by her first. I suppose it’s not much of a stretch at all to go from apologizing for sharing the Gospel of Christ to saying that there are enough Christians in the world. Still, I’m kind of suspicious about this quote. Could she really have said that? I don’t know enough about the source to deem whether or not the quote is valid. Either way, I think we could use some further reporting about the theology behind the Episcopal Church’s interfaith outreach and its practice with regard to Holy Communion. And the next time the mainstream media say the conflict in the Episcopal Church is over homosexuality, keep this story in mind.