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Extending Your Congregation's Communion Table to Those Unable to Be Present

The 2012 Book of Discipline contains a paragraph that may be easily overlooked. The paragraph permits pastors to select and train laypersons to take Communion to those who are unable to be present for the congregation's sharing of the bread and cup. Although this may be a red flag for some pastors who hold that administration of Communion is a prerogative of the clergy, it invites all of us to a practical reflection on the congregation's role in pastoral care and the sacramental inclusion of all members. It invites the church to develop lay eucharistic ministry beyond the walls of the church and the set times of our services of worship. The paragraph under the duties of a pastor reads:

Discipleship Ministries "shall encourage ordained elders to select and train laity to distribute the consecrated Communion elements to sick or homebound persons following a service of Word and Table. This distribution also may apply to laypersons who have been assigned pastoral roles in a church or in more than one church by the district superintendent." (From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church — 2012, paragraph 1116.9, Ministry of the Laity. Copyright © 2012 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.)

For pastors and congregations who want to enact this extension of Christ's Table, there are at least two important and available resources:

  1. "Service of Word and Table V with Persons Who Are Sick or Homebound" in The United Methodist Book of Worship, page 51.
  2. "Extending the Eucharist to the Unwillingly Absent," an appendix in Laurence Hull Stookey's book, Eucharist: Christ's Feast with the Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press), pages 155-159.

The first resource is for use by ordained elders. However, the rubrics give directions for adapting the service for use by laypeople who have been selected by the pastor to take the consecrated elements from the congregation's celebration of Holy Communion. The primary change is that laypersons are to omit the Great Thanksgiving. The other rubrics should also be carefully considered whether clergy or laypersons use this service. If you have Andy Langford's book Blueprints For Worship: A User's Guide for United Methodist Worship (Abingdon Press, 1993), you will find on pages 46-47 further commentary on adapting the service.

Professor Stookey's book is particularly helpful in its treatment of the issues discussed in its final chapter. That chapter lays a solid pastoral foundation for the extension of the Eucharistic Table and raises significant points that a congregation needs to address to engage in this broadened sacramental ministry. The appendix gives general instructions, rites for use at the conclusion of the congregation's Communion, and model words and actions for use at the place of distribution. Congregations will be grateful that the publisher allows this appendix to be duplicated for local church use. Pastors will find this resource helpful in making it clear that Communion is a congregational act. When the elements are taken to the unwillingly absent by laypeople, those laypeople are not celebrating the sacrament again, but are recalling it and extending it to those who are otherwise forced to be absent from the Holy Meal.

Extending the Table for those unable to be present is an area for building new knowledge in ministry and for developing additional resources as pastors and congregations work to extend Christ's feast with the church. We in the Center for Worship Resourcing at the Discipleship Ministries look forward to hearing your stories and receiving copies of resources you use for training your "eucharistic ministers."

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Daniel T. Benedict, Jr. ([email protected]) is retired from Discipleship Ministries.

Posted 7-17-03; Revised 7-6-15

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