Holy Communion during physical distancing

Among pastors around the ELCA, there has been a lot of discussion these past weeks about whether and how to do Holy Communion during physical distancing. For Lutherans, Holy Communion is a meal we share in the gathered community of faith, during which Christ is truly present “in, with and under” the bread and wine. They are still bread and wine – but together with the promise of God, they are also a means of grace, bringing to us the true presence of Christ in a unique and special way.

For some, this can only happen within a physical gathering. Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and the worship commission of the ELCA have, in fact, recommended that churches fast from Holy Communion until we can once again physically gather to share the meal together.

For others, the sense of community experienced in online gatherings is considered enough to constitute a gathered community for the sake of Holy Communion. I fall into this category. I have frankly been surprised at how I have been moved, and sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit in the real connection between people, during the times I’ve gathered in “digital community” in recent weeks. We have supported one another, delighted in seeing one another and sharing news, prayed together, and listened together to the promises of God through the Holy Scripture.

Moreover, for me, what makes it Holy Communion is the promise of God that—when we gather with the bread and wine, and intention and prayers of Holy Communion—God will come. I believe God can do that as effectively at 50 kitchen tables as at one church altar, if that is what we ask and need of God. And I believe it is. Holy Communion is a meal that we believe strengthens our faith and encourages us in the challenges of life, and I think this is a time we all need that sustenance that only God can give.

For these reasons, we will celebrate Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday, and on the Sundays following. Each participant will be invited to bring to their worship space a small amount of bread and wine – enough for everyone worshiping there, not more than they can consume during the worship service. Anyone who does not feel comfortable may simply pray and receive the blessing during that time.

However, when someone watches a video of a service two hours or two days later, they are no longer with the gathered community; therefore, we will edit out the Holy Communion section before we post videos on YouTube and Facebook.

If you would like to read more about this, I recommend the article from Presiding Bishop Eaton, and also an article by Pastor Leta Behrens and Pastor Michael Stadtmueller, from Our Savior Lutheran Church in Fort Collins. If you have questions, comments or concerns, feel free to contact me by email or phone.