You may not realize it, but you may be one.
A communicant in good standing.
Doesn’t that sound all official, like you’re the “Constable of Derbyshire,” or the “Mayor of Timbuktu?”
Maybe not, but you’ve got to admit, we Episcopalians are good at fancying up names for things. Who needs a “lobby” when you can have a “narthex?” Why pass the “collection plate” when you can pass the “alms basin?” Why would I want to be just a “pastor” when I could be a “rector?” So of course we would have a fancy Episcopalized version of the word “church member.”
So what exactly is a communicant in good standing and why should we care?
First of all, when such questions arise, we journey to the deep dark recesses of the church to unearth the ancient scrolls called the Canons (oh, wait, mine are in a blue book on a shelf above my desk). “Canon” is the fancy term for rules (see, we do it a lot). Here’s what the canons say:
Sec. 1 (a) All persons who have received the Sacrament of Holy Baptism with water in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, whether in this Church or in another Christian Church, and whose Baptisms have been duly recorded in this Church, are members thereof.
Basically, this defines “members” as anyone who’s baptism is recorded in the Church. So, if you were baptized at St. Nicholas, you are a member of St. Nicholas. But also, if you were baptized in the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ Pentecostal Holiness Church of the Brethren AME PCA PCUSA Relevant Church of the Contemporary Garage Band (this place exists, I swear), and you start coming to St. Nicholas and we record that baptism and the Bishop recognizes you publicly and welcomes you into the Episcopal Church, then you also are a member.
But wait, there’s more! This canon says:
Sec. 2 (a) All members of this Church who have received Holy Communion in this Church at least three times during the preceding year are to be considered communicants of this Church.
(b) For the purposes of statistical consistency throughout the Church, communicants sixteen years of age and over are to be considered adult communicants.
What the what? In English, please! That is English?
Ok, so this says that a “communicant” is someone who has come to church and received communion at least 3 times in the last year. Sorry, all you Christmas-and-Easter-Only folks, you may be a member, but you don’t get the fancy “communicant” title. Come one more time, though, and you’re good to go! Also, in the Episcopal Church, we qualify adult communicants as 16-year-olds! If you can drive, then you can thrive in the Episcopal Church (put that on a bumper sticker!).
Finally, we have what we came for:
Sec. 3. All communicants of this Church who for the previous year have been faithful in corporate worship, unless for good cause prevented, and have been faithful in working, praying, and giving for the spread of the Kingdom of God, are to be considered communicants in good standing.
I love this. Look at the words the canons use to describe a communicant in good standing. You have to be faithful in worship (unless you’re really sick or your dog ate your homework), faithful in working, faithful in praying, and faithful in giving.
So, why is this important? Here’s a few reasons:
1. For practical purposes, only communicants in good standing can be leaders in the church. The canons of the church say that in order to serve on the Vestry (fancy for “spiritual lay leaders of the church”) or to be ordained as a deacon, priest, or bishop, you have to first be a communicant in good standing. You would hope that the leaders of the church would be faithful in worship, working, praying, and giving, right? Makes sense.
2. These days, the majority of Americans jump from church to church (or from church to the warmth of their beds) as much as they jump from Home Depot to Lowe’s. That’s not so much a criticism as a reality. And it’s not entirely their fault. The Church has doused themselves pretty well in people-repellent over the last 50 years. There used to be a day when lay people would claim the title “communicant in good standing” as a badge of honor. It was a sign of commitment to an institution, while not perfect, in which they believed.
When we stand to say the Pledge of Allegiance, we say that pledge with pride as Americans, even though many of us disagree vehemently with our government and their broken policies. This is because we know it’s not the government that makes us Americans, but the fact that we participate in American life. What an honor to say that pledge, right?
In the same way, lay people can claim the title “communicant in good standing” proudly, because let’s be honest, many of you are faithful in worship, in working, in praying, and in giving. That’s something of which you can be proud!
3. The canon says exactly why: “for the spread of the Kingdom of God.” While I’m aware that we often embellish words and titles for seemingly no apparent reason, this one has a meaning that has teeth. Communicants in good standing are primarily so because they are intended to spread the Kingdom. WOW! This is not an exclusive club. Communicants in good standing further the borders of God’s Kingdom simply because of their worship, work, prayer, and giving. We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ, and when we engage in these practices and claim our identity as God’s beloved, spreading the Kingdom of God just comes naturally.
So wave your “CIGS” banner! Let your “CIGS” flag fly! Be proud of who you are! Invite others to claim the title as well. If you go to St. Nicholas or any other Episcopal Church regularly, and you attend worship and events regularly, and you work, pray, and give regularly, but you haven’t yet become a member or communicant or communicant in good standing, then go talk to your priest and claim your fancy Episcopal title. You deserve it!