A pastoral note to the synod: The practice of Holy Communion while we are apart
Dear Partners in the Gospel of Jesus Christ,
In this time of uncertainty, pain, sickness, anxiety, grief and life, I remind you of our Mission in Southern Ohio and the Church…to make sure the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, is read, heard, shared, invited into and proclaimed. And the vision of this mission territory is Stronger and Better Together…Joining Jesus in the Restoration of the World. We are Church and we are together in a new way.
Some of you will agree with me and that’s ok. Some of you will not agree with me and that’s ok. Some of you want me to tell you how to do Holy Communion when we are apart. That is not going to happen. I am going to give you my perspective. I cannot make you do anything.
I want to be very clear and refocus where we need to journey at this time of COVID-19.
Read the Gospel.
Preach the Gospel.
Read the Gospel.
The preached word is the living word of God and we are united in that Word. It is life-giving and it is the Holy Spirit that works in and through the preacher and the hearer. It is the most important thing we do. Do not neglect the preaching and teaching of the Word. That should be our focus. If you cannot find the words to preach, read the Gospel. That’s proclamation!
Other pastoral responsibilities need to continue during this time. Pastoral Care can still be a part of your everyday life. Keep connected. Keep the relationship strong. Pray for people. Remember neighbor. Remember those who are not yet with you. People are afraid, scared and rightly so. This pandemic is deadly, we know that, and people are looking for a word of grace and hope. You are Christ’s presence.
I call upon us to tend to and faithfully consider whether to and how to have Holy Communion when we are apart.
If you choose to celebrate Holy Communion when we are apart (and I know some of you already are) I want you to do so reverently, with care and integrity. I want you to do it with education and explanation and make it very clear this is not the norm and once we are back together, as a community, the Body of Christ, this practice will cease.
If you practice Holy Communion when we are apart, remind people that it is a community meal and these are unique times.
Do not make any decision on your own, but again in consultation with the church council. I trust you will make the right decision for your community of faith.
I do not recommend offering Holy Communion in small groups on Easter or anytime during the Stay Home Order. Exceptions can be made for near death situations with appropriate precautions. It is for safety and concern for others and staying healthy that I share this. Caring for each other and neighbor is what we are about.
During this time of not meeting in person in corporate worship, fasting from Holy Communion is appropriate even on April 12. The celebration of the Resurrection happens every Sunday. Preach that word of salvation, hope, promise, life and grace. Read the story of Salvation.
I choose to fast until we are through this pandemic. I read the Gospel. I ask whose need is being met when we move away from the Gospel and focus on making Holy Communion center rather than the saving power of Jesus Christ, which comes to us in many ways.
Upon reflection, and caring for relationships within the Lutheran family ecclesiologically, we are a global church in a worldwide communion fellowship. Caring for relationships ecumenically, we live with 6 full communion partner relationships with expectations of one another and we live in relationship with each other: congregations, synods, and Churchwide, remembering what one of us does, affects others. Each of us needs to make these decisions faithfully within our own contexts for the whole Body of Christ.
More conversation, about the impact of Holy Communion when we are apart, needs to happen but this is for another time after we are past the pandemic and can have meaningful reflection and conversation. We need to be faithful to the witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I am not endorsing, encouraging or authorizing a celebration of Holy Communion while we are apart at Easter or any other time. If you choose to do this, please, please keep what I have said in mind. Make wise pastoral decisions and we will sort this out in healthier times.
Jesus Christ is present in the Word. Take the time to gather around your tables at home, encourage others to do the same and read and hear the Word of God come alive.
Yes we need Jesus. Yes we need the Word. Yes we need to care for each other in different ways.
I trust you to make wise pastoral decisions in the next days, even with Holy Communion while we are apart, regarding how you choose to connect with others and I believe we will sort this out with our theologians when we are past COVID-19.
We are all in different settings and should not judge each other on what we do or do not do. As I Corinthians 12:14 says, “Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.” Remember Luther’s meaning to the 8th Commandment…Put the best construction on what our neighbor says and does. Remember we live by Word Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone and we are a grace filled people.
“Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, the Lord.” Philippians 4:5-7
Finally, I commend to you the paper written by Dean Kit Kleinhans, Dr. Cheryl Peterson and Dr. Joy Schroeder who have helped me think through my response to your questions about Holy Communion during COVID-19. The link to their paper is below.
I continue to pray for you that you may have the strength, compassion and health to serve God’s people in your community.
Bishop Suzanne Darcy Dillahunt
To watch/listen to the Bishop's call with rostered ministers pertaining to communion while we are apart and other important COVID-19 related issues, click HERE to visit our VIMEO channel where the ZOOM call is archived.