Sharing Bread and Cup

In my first few months of pastoral ministry, I have often heard (and often repeated) some variation on the idea that “you never know which cows are sacred until you start making hamburger.” When I suggested that we receive Communion by intinction for All Saints Sunday, the worship committee agreed, but there was a bit of grumbling after worship that week. This congregation is used to coming forward to receive a cube of bread, then moving to the Communion rail to pray and take a little cup of juice before returning to the pews. Dipping bread in a cup seemed … unsanitary, at least to some.

I assured folks that we were only trying it this way for All Saints, and intinction was not going to become the new norm (though I do think we’ll use sturdier bread next time we try it, like pita). I teased a few complainers with the thought that there might be even stranger ways to accept Bread and Cup. Turns out, I was right.

Online Communion  became the hot topic a couple of weeks ago among clergy in the United Methodist Church.  Out of that discussion came another about “self-serve” Communion, and I learned that “drop in” or “self-serve” Communion is something the United Methodist Church frowns upon.  In fact, this practice is in direct violation of the United Methodist Church’s published doctrine of the sacrament of Holy Communion:

Both “self-service” Communion, where people help themselves, and “drop-in” Communion, where the elements are available over a period of time, are contrary to the communal nature of the sacrament, which is the celebration of the gathered community of faith.” – This Holy Mystery

So here I am, just a few months into my first appointment in a Methodist church, where the practice for years has been to offer a “silent” drop-in Communion service half an hour before the Christmas Eve candlelight worship. Whatever my personal views may be about serving the broken body and blood of the Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve, I’m stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place. Do I tell the congregation we’ve been doing it wrong all this time, or do I tell the denomination our tradition trumps Methodist doctrine? Could I get away with a little humor, like these guys did with their Drone Communion proposal? No matter how I turn it over in my mind, I can’t think of a good compromise, and I’m not sure compromise is even a good idea at this point.

So, we aren’t doing it anymore. This year, we will begin worship at 9:30, the time the Communion elements were offered in previous years. We started announcing it in worship, in the newsletter, and in casual conversations last week. If you come to worship at 10:00 pm, hoping to skip the obligatory trip to the Communion rail, you’ll have missed half the service.

But you’ll be just in time for Holy Communion.

What are your thoughts on Christmas Eve Communion? How does your church do it? How would changing that tradition impact your worship on this holy night?

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