Friday, October 9, 2015

Extending the Communion Table


Holy Communion is one of two a sacraments in the United Methodist Church, the other being baptism. In the UMC, communion is an act of the whole church. We do not practice private communion. It is always done within the context of the assembled community of faith. But, like almost every other Christian denomination, we recognize that not everyone can be assembled when communion is offered. Persons who are not able to come by reason of illness, disability or medical treatment or condition may be offered communion where they reside or are under treatment. In the United Methodist Church, this is known as extending the table. However, communion for these persons begins within the context of the community of faith. The communion elements of bread and wine are consecrated by the pastor before being transported to serve to the home-bound for the sick.

General information
1.         Because Communion is an act of the church, it is intended for any person baptized into the body of Christ in the apostolic tradition. In Methodism, Communion may be taken by unbaptized persons if they are desirous of baptism soon. Hence, Communion should be served only by baptized persons.
2.         One of the earliest sacramental issues the early church had to deal with was whether the moral character of clergy or lay persons could negate the efficacy of the sacraments. That is, were there sins that should disqualify clergy or laity from either consecrating or receiving the sacraments? The answer is no. The actor in the sacraments is God, whose power is not hindered by the human condition. Therefore, there is no personal issue of servers that makes them unworthy to take Communion to the homebound or sick. We are not worthy to receive or serve Communion to begin with!
3.         Communion is to be neither consecrated, served, nor received casually. It is a means of grace by which Christ sanctifies his holy church to move us on to perfection. While a Communion visit may be light-hearted, serving and receiving Communion should be treated with respect.
4.         Ideally, Communion to the sick and homebound should be taken on the same day that it is celebrated at the church, using the same Communion elements as shared by the congregation.  Those who carry Holy Communion to the sick and persons otherwise confined, therefore, continue the community's act of worship. They extend the community's embrace to include those unable to be physically present. If a same-day visit is not possible, Communion should be taken as soon as possible.
5.         Always call ahead to confirm the day and time to come. Observe the visitants’ condition and time your visit with them as you deem best for all. Remember, most will be very glad to see you and may want you to stay longer than you planned!
6.         “Visit at full speed” right to departure. Do not take several minutes to explain why you must leave and say farewell. When the time comes that you must leave, simply stand and politely say so, make brief but cordial farewells, and go.
7.         When praying with the homebound and sick, ask them first what they wish you to pray for, if they are able to answer.
8.         Communion is to be offered to all persons present if they wish. So it is good to know how many persons will be there before arriving.

Continued after the jump

Ministers of Communion for the sick should:
·     be sincere Christians in faith and practice who follow the Christian way of life. They should be at ease with other people.
·     participate faithfully in the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church.
·     be able to minister to others in the company of suffering or even death. 
·     keep confidences and not discuss indiscriminately the condition of persons or their homes.
·     be able to deal with the sick or the elderly in a compassionate, cheerful and sensitive way.

Role of Clergy and Laity

Since the early church, the consecration of the bread wine for Communion has been the exclusive privilege of clergy, including in Protestant denominations. However, this does not mean that the entire Communion liturgy must be led only by clergy. Lay persons may lead the liturgy all the way to the “Words of Institution.” The UMC’s Discipleship Ministries explains:[1]
The "Great Thanksgiving," in which we find the "words of institution," is a prayer addressed to God. The prayer is the second of four ritual actions for the Lord's Supper that are modeled on the actions of Jesus on the night of his last meal with the disciples and on his actions at the table in Emmaus. The actions are: take (preparing the bread and cup); bless (giving thanks over the bread and cup); break (breaking the single loaf of bread and raising the cup); and give (the bread and cup are given to the people). Simply stated, the first part of the prayer blesses God, the second recalls Jesus, and the third part invokes the Holy Spirit. At the point where the prayer turns to recalling the Last Supper, the prayer becomes a narrative of the actions and words of Jesus. In "Word and Table I," the words about the bread are from Luke 22:19 and those about the cup are from Matthew 26:27.
On the night in which he gave himself up for us,
he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread,
gave it to his disciples, and said:
"Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you.
Do this in remembrance of me."
When the supper was over, he took the cup,
gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples, and said:
"Drink from this, all of you;
this is my blood of the new covenant,
poured out for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this, as often as you drink it,
in remembrance of me."
These words are commonly called the "words of institution," and they are universally used with the Lord's Supper.
In orthodox history, these words were held by the early church and in the centuries following to be where the bread and wine became the actual body and blood of Christ in their essence, though not in appearance. In Methodist theology, the bread remains bread and the wine (or juice) remains wine. However, like most Protestant denominations, we hold that the Words of Institution are the point at which the bread and wine become a holy meal, consecrated to, and by, our Lord.
Hence, the bread and wine taken to the homebound and sick must be consecrated by clergy beforehand or at the scene of the visit. This will normally be done during the preceding Communion service. Once a server offers Communion to the homebound or sick, it is appropriate, whether lay server or clergy, to repeat the Words of Institution there to provide a spiritual setting for the communicant and a preparation for the prayer and invocation that follows.

What to say when serving
Both clergy and lay persons utter the same words when serving the bread and wine:
1.         When offering the bread, say, “The body of Christ, given for you.” (Sometimes servers say, “broken for you,” but this is not preferable since Jesus told his disciples his body was “given.” Furthermore, John 19.36 quotes Psalm 34.20 as a prophecy of Jesus’s death, “These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken… .’”)
2.         When offering the cup, say, “The blood of Christ, shed for you.”

Making the visit

Call ahead before visiting.  Take a Sunday bulletin for each household you will visit.
As you begin the visit:
·     Remember you are in ministry not only to the homebound or ill person, but to any family member who is also present.
·     Share greetings and introductions; share information about the church if the person shows interest.
·     After listening to the conditions and desires of the person who is sick, ask if the person desires Communion at this time. Invite the family to receive Communion also. Ask what Scripture reading s/he would like and read it, or choose a suitable one if they have no preference. It need not be a long passage – be aware that short and comforting passages are a virtue!
·     Pace the ritual with sensitivity. Be aware of the sick person's ability to follow. Adapt to each visit.
·     Try to sit with the communicant(s) at a table if possible. If not, place the Communion elements on a surface where they can be manipulated easily with little chance of mishandling. Sometimes this can be a challenge, especially in medical settings.
·     Give a small portion of the bread and wine to a person who has difficulty swallowing;  only a small particle of the bread can be taken if necessary, but do not insist. In hospital, it may be necessary only to use the sponge-stick mouth moisteners for the wine.
·     The plastic Communion cups may be discarded at the end of the visit. Unused break and wine should be taken with you when you depart to be disposed of appropriately.

Acceptance of Gifts

Occasionally, the person you visit may want you to take a gift, offering, or donation with you for the church. This can be an awkward moment.  You are not obligated to accept it so do not do so if you do not wish to. Even if willing, do not accept a large sum, even in a check.

 Questions and Answers

1.  Should prayer and Communion be at the beginning or end of our time together?
There is no set rule but most people find it more comfortable to spend some time in conversation before sharing prayer and Holy Communion.
2.  What prayers do I say when I bring Holy Communion to the sick?
Consider the person's illness, pain level, tiredness, and ability to concentrate; also be considerate of others who are responding to that person's physical needs.
3.  If others are present, should I invite them to pray and receive Communion with the sick person?
Yes, others should be invited to join in prayer and receive Communion.
4.  What if the sick person is unable to swallow?
A moistening of the lips with the consecrated wine is an act of pastoral care that may be done instead.
5.  Should I receive Communion when ministering to others?
Yes. Serve yourself last.
6.  What do I do with unused bread and wine?
A common Methodist practice is to scatter unused, consecrated bread and wine onto open ground as a blessing to nature by nature’s God. A short invocation may be offered while doing so, such as, “May the grace of God abound throughout all creation,” or similar. There are no set words.
7.  What should I do if the bread is dropped or the person removes it from his/her mouth?
If no health concerns, it may be picked up and consumed. Otherwise it should be disposed of as above. Of course, if anyone declines or refuses to receive Communion, you should respect this wish.


Rethinking Marriage

What the Christian religion has to do with marriage is a huge subject, so at best this is an overview. I call it Rethinking Marriage becaus...