A Pastoral Letter on Baptism as the Gateway to Holy Communion
Dear Church Family,
The Diocese of The Bahamas and The Turks and Caicos Islands will join the entire Province of the West Indies in taking a significant step on this Advent Sunday, 3rd December, 2023. On that day Baptism will become the Gateway to Holy Communion, which means that all baptized persons, including children, will receive Holy Communion and not have to wait until they are confirmed.
This Diocese, with our Province, is joining a majority of the Worldwide Anglican Communion in adopting this practice.
From the time of the Apostles, the Church placed great emphasis on Jesus as the food for this life and for the age to come. Holy Communion was highly regarded as God’s gift to the people of God, as a whole. Holy Baptism was accepted as the only entry point into the Church, the Body of Christ. All the baptized are full members of the Church. In addition, all the baptized, including children are rightful recipients of the Christian family meal, the Holy Communion. This was the unchallenged teaching and practice of the Church up to the time of the continental reformation in the 16th century (1500-1599 AD). The logic of this practice affirms that if baptism, as recorded in the New Testament, is truly a full initiation into the Body of Christ, all of the baptized, regardless of age or cognitive capacity, are entitled to receive Holy Communion. Historical documents from the late 2nd century (100-199 AD) show that children who were baptized as infants or young children did receive Holy Communion.
Full participation in the life and worship of God’s anointed people actually helps children in their faith formation. Sharing in liturgy and receiving Holy Communion allows for experiential learning, which is especially well suited to children, who learn most of their life lessons in this way.
Having Baptism as the Gateway emphasizes what was already fundamental since the time of the New Testament when baptizing an infant or a child: children depend on their parents, other adults and the entire Christian community to learn about life and about faith. We cannot now – nor was it ever wise – to baptize children carelessly without any real commitment to raising them in the ways of Christ.
Archbishop Drexel Gomez wrote:
“Our belief that Baptism is the Gateway to the Holy Communion should lead us to affirm that adult converts should be baptized only after they have made a profession of faith. However, since we join the undivided Church in the practice of infant baptism, we are obliged to assist the members of the Church in the realization that this practice has strong biblical support. The inclusion of children in the covenant community of the Old Testament was based upon the Jewish concept of the family which affirms that, in God’s plan, the family is to provide a setting in which the truth of his covenant love might be passed on from generation to generation (Psalm 78:5-6). Those household baptisms recorded in Acts 16 and I Corinthians 1:16 would be consistent with the principle of “covenant succession” illuminated in the Old Testament”.
There are two traditional objections to the granting of Holy Communion to baptized children:
- That they are not yet confirmed, and
- That they, as adolescents, need instruction leading to “understanding”.
The emphasis on “understanding” wrongly implies that rational understanding must precede the reception of God’s grace of Holy Communion. God’s grace, as revealed in scripture, is always bestowed by God as an unconditional grace, freely bestowed by a gracious God. If rational understanding was the required criterion for the proper reception of Holy Communion, even many adults would be denied Holy Communion.
The objection related to Holy Confirmation fails to appreciate the history and genesis of confirmation. In Western Christianity, in the 4th century (300-399 AD), Holy Confirmation was introduced as a rite to pray for God’s grace and strength upon young people in their ongoing life of faith. It was accompanied by the laying on of hands and the anointing with oil and was meant as a reinforcement of what was done at baptism. The bishop officiated and the persons presented for confirmation were already receiving Holy Communion.
When confirmation was introduced it was not observed as the Gateway to Holy Communion.
The leaders of the 16th century reformation on the continent of Europe introduced a new meaning and purpose to the rite of Confirmation. The Reformers defined “Confirmation” as a sort of graduation ceremony preceded by a lengthy period of catechetical instruction in the faith. Those who “graduated” were confirmed and permitted to receive Holy Communion, thereby introducing Confirmation as the Gateway to Communion. This was a departure from the teaching and practice of the Western Church since the 4th century. Prior to the continental reformation, Baptism was the sole initiatory rite but the Reformers made baptism the first step or stage of a two-part initiatory process, thereby making Confirmation the completion of Baptism. According to this scheme, only Confirmation conferred full membership in the Church with the right to receive Holy Communion. Confirmation, first introduced in the 4th century as a reinforcement of what was done in Baptism, is now presented as the completion of Baptism. Up to this point, persons became full members of the church at Baptism. In the new reformed rite, persons became full members of the Church at Confinnation. Persons are members of the Church at Baptism, but some are denied the right to receive the God-given food of Holy Communion until Confirmation.
The English Church, the Mother Church of Anglicanism, followed the Reformers’ approach to Confirmation and this practice has prevailed in the worldwide Anglican Communion over the past 500 years. However, from the middle of the 20th century, concern has arisen among the Provinces of the Anglican Communion over Confirmation as the Gateway to Holy Communion. Some Provinces had returned to the early teaching and practice with Baptism as the gateway and others have indicated support for this approach.
The change from one practice to the other should not be seen in terms of the Church having made a mistake and therefore trying to correct that mistake in the 4th and 16th and now in the 21st century. No, it is the Church in every generation and circumstance seeking to exercise its best and most effective stewardship of the gospel at every turn.
In 2019 the Church in the Province of the West Indies (CPWI) began a discussion at its Provincial Synod, at the request of the Bishops of the Province, to move toward Baptism as the Gateway. We are not seeking to abandon Confirmation but to offer Confirmation to persons who can make adult decisions. The Bishops of CPWI affirm that Holy Confirmation deals with the relationship between the confirmand and the Lord into whom he/she was baptized. It includes a mature public affirmation of faith and a mature commitment to the responsibilities inherent in Baptism. Because Confirmation marks a new stage in the relationship between the confirmand and the Holy Spirit initiated at Baptism, the new stage in the relationship represents a deepening of a personal
relationship begun at Baptism. For such an affirmation of faith to be mature, it must be made by a mature person who possesses the intellectual, moral reasoning, and the will of an adult. This approach to Confirmation does not support the Confirmation of persons 12 years old or younger because they are incapable, because of their age, of making an “adult mature profession of faith”. This approach to Confirmation also emphasizes that the Holy Communion will be offered continuously as the food for all baptized members of the Christian Family; it is the exposure to the grace inherent in the Holy Communion that assists in providing the spiritual energy to lead persons to the point where they are willing to make an adult mature commitment to Christ at Confirmation. This common sharing of adults and children in Holy Communion can offer a powerful testimony to the Biblical affirmation that we are all one in Christ Jesus. It is this type of growth and development in the Christian life that the Province is offering in the sacrament of Holy Communion.
Two pamphlets (What every Parent should know and teach their child about BAPTISM and When is My Child Ready to Receive Communion?) are available on the Provincial website (https://cpwianglicans.org/cpwi/) to help parents with their role in teaching their children the faith. We encourage parents and other adults to focus on the ENTIRE development of children: physical, material, mental, emotional, spiritual and church-life development.
In conclusion, I repeat that Advent Sunday is the trigger date.
- From that day Holy Communion will be administered to all baptized
- Toddlers may begin to receive the Body of Christ only no later than about 3 years old. This may occur earlier at the discretion of the clergy in consultation with the parent(s). The parent ultimately makes the decision with respect to the child.
- Children may receive the Blood of Christ once they reach junior high school (grade 7) or thereabouts, at the discretion of the clergy in consultation with the parent(s).
- Holy Confinnation will remain, and be a moment for a mature expression of the faith that had been implanted and practiced before. It should be administered at around 16 years old as at that age a young person is in the last phase of adolescence and beginning to move into adulthood. Again, the discretion of parents and clergy is necessary.
- It is even more critical that Holy Confirmation be preceded by a time of instruction, spiritual formation and close interaction with Church leadership.
- Adults coming for baptism do not need to be confirmed as, in offering for baptism, they are already making a mature confession of their faith. Adults coming for baptism should undergo instruction, spiritual formation, and interaction with Church leadership similar to that of persons preparing for Confomation.
Sisters and Brothers, this is a wonderful, ground-breaking, and trend-setting moment in the life of the Diocese and the Province. It is a chance for us to refocus on the centrality and importance of Holy Communion in our Christian lives – as instituted and presented in scripture by Jesus Himself (John 6: 35-58; I Cor 11: 23-34) and practised by the Apostles and the early Christian generations.
In Holy Communion, Jesus is the one hosting us, as He hosted the Last Supper. Jesus is also the food for the meal since He gives us His Body: “This is my body, given for you; take and eat” (Matthew 26:26). We believe that Jesus is actually present in the bread and the wine at Communion, which is why these elements are referred to as the Body and Blood of Christ, why they are taken in devotion and handled with such reverence. This is referred to as The Real Presence. It is a mystery. We cannot explain it but we believe that Jesus’ real and true presence is there.
May the new path draw us closer to God AND closer together as a family, I commend to you Baptism as the Gateway to Holy Communion.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev’d. Laish Boyd
BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE OF THE BAHAMAS AND THE TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS