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Open Letter and Response

Posted on September 18, 2014 at 4:10 PM

Open Letter and Response

by Gilbert Creutzberg

An open letter to the Vestry and to the Rector of Christ Church Riverdale

from Gilbert Creutzberg [published in FaceBook]

5-8-2014 / 5-9-2014

I don’t have any recollection of having been baptized, nor do I have a birth certificate. I must have a photo somewhere of when my father, a minister, baptized me, in Holland.

In recent years, we are being reminded in Christ Church Riverdale that, in order to partake in the communion, one needs to have been baptized, although it’s still okay to get a blessing (Wow!) This appears in italics in each bulletin. It is addressed to the congregation, especially when there are many newcomers. I say “in recent years” because when I started going to Christ Church pretty regularly, after a long period in which I only attended church on Christmas and Easter - that was when Father William Davidson was the rector - there was never any allusion either by him or his successor that you needed to be baptized if you wanted to participate at communion.

I was curious and checked it out. It seems that it has to do with an affirmation of a dogma that comes straight from the officials of the Episcopal Church in the United States. It is comparable to the dogma in the Catholic church that one cannot partake in communion without confession of sins to the priest. I went once to Catholic mass with a friend and asked what would happen if I partook in the communion anyhow. My friend said, “Nothing, but you don’t receive the same benefits as somebody who has been to confession.”

Big deal. I don’t feel obliged to accept everything coming from the archbishop or the pope or whomever, because I consider myself capable of deciding what I believe in and what I put aside. When I hear that a person must have been baptized in order to receive communion, I immediately form questions in my mind: “Says who?” “Who will enforce that edict?” “What happens if I take a friend to church with me who has never been baptized or who was baptized in a different faith, or who is from India and is a Hindu?” “Am I to check with the priest, so that my friend can at least get a blessing?” “What if my friend can’t remember and/or has lost his birth certificate in a fire?”

Next, we’ll have to think about the following step: who is going to enforce the rule? Because if the church states that there is a rule that’s very important, one expects that it must be taken seriously. I recall that Father. Davidson once told a funny story in one of his sermons. He mentioned that early in his career, a homeless man, smelly and wearing filthy clothes, wandered into the church and, seeing people participating in the communion, asked, “What’s that?” Father Davidson said, “That’s the body and blood of Christ.” The guy said, “I’ll have some.”

And he did. What a beautiful story! Father Davidson said to the people in the congregation, “Yes, we can have some, too.”

Humorous as it may sound, the message is strong and simple. There is inclusion, not exclusion. Christ Church is not a club for members who can pay the steep admission fee, like a chic golf club. No, it’s a club for outcasts, for drug addicts, alcoholics, criminals, for human beings from all over – no questions asked. The first time I came to worship at Christ Church, I asked the minister, the late Father Robert Rodie, “Do I have to believe in anything?” He said, “No.” I felt happy, because I have wrestled my whole life to find what I believe. That is that God lives in every one of us, and that’s all. I gave up long ago to become a priest or a minister when I studied at a seminary and I challenged the dogmas of the church, in a stark confrontation with one of the professors, described in my book “The Mosaic.” I went to NYU and began study in psychology. I thank God to this day that I made that decision. Any kind of poppycock that’s offered to me, regardless of its source, must first run through the sieve of my intelligence and pass my critique.

I cannot see why it’s necessary to be reminded each time I pick up the bulletin that a worshipper must have been baptized in order to receive communion. Don’t ask me, either, to believe in the virginal birth or that Joshua won the battle of Jericho when God obliged and put the sun on standstill. Give me a break. I love the poetry of the bible, but to take any line of it literally is tantamount to robbing it of its beauty Please don’t drop dogmas on the table for me to digest. I’d rather go to McDonald’s.

This Open Letter was first published at FaceBook. The responses were positive. With the coming of a new priest at Christ Church Riverdale, Father Andrew Butler, the wording of the weekly bulletin has been changed, as of August 3, 2014:

All who desire to be filled with Christ’s loving presence

are invited to receive communion.

Jesus welcomed all to his table

and so you are welcome here at Christ Church.

I am deeply grateful. The words of a Dutch poet, Herman Gorter, who published a poem named “Mei” (“May”;) in 1921, come to my mind:

“Een nieuwe lente en een nieuw geluid:

Ik wil dat dit lied klinkt als het gefluit,

dat ik vaak hoorde voor een zomernacht,

in een oud stadje, langs de watergracht…

Dan blies een jongen als een orgelpijp,

de klanken schudden in de lucht zo rijp…”

(A new spring and a new sound:

I want this song to sound like the whistle

that I often heard during a summer night,

in an old, small town, alongside the canal…

A boy whistled like an organ pipe,

and the sounds fell out of the ripe sky…;)


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