From The Stated Clerks
March 20, 2020
In this unforeseen new reality which we are attempting to navigate, we want to lift up all the ways the pastors and congregations are continuing to be the church, attending to the spiritual needs of those within and beyond the congregation, participating in significant community outreach to help those in marginal circumstances, providing pastoral care by remote means and gathering for worship in the alternative location of “cyberspace” via phones and computers. All these new things we are learning will serve us well during and after the current crisis.
There have been some inquiries made about the celebration of the Lord’s Supper when worship is conducted electronically. You may find it helpful to be reminded of what our polity affirms as the central place of the sacrament in the life of the church:
The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper offers an abundant feast of theological meaning, including: thanksgiving to God the Father; remembrance of Jesus Christ; invocation of the Holy Spirit; communion in the body of Christ; and a meal of the realm of God. The Reformed tradition understands the Lord’s Supper to be a sign of God’s covenant…The Lord’s Supper also reflects our calling to feed others as we have been fed, and offers a foretaste of that heavenly banquet when God will wipe away every tear and swallow up death forever…Through the Lord’s Supper, Jesus Christ nourishes us in righteousness, faithfulness, and discipleship. Through the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Spirit renews the Church in its identity and sends the Church to mission in the world. When we gather at the Lord’s Supper the Spirit draws us into Christ’s presence and unites with the Church in every time and place. We join with all the faithful in heaven and onearth in offering thanksgiving to the triune God. We reaffirm the promises of our baptism and recommit ourselves to love and serve God, one another, and our neighbors in the world. W-3.0409
In times such as these the importance of the gifts which are offered by this sacrament and its call to “…recommit ourselves to love and serve God, one another, and our neighbors…” cannot be minimized.
Our Church’s polity was created and has been interpreted under the assumption that worship and sacraments are conducted in physical spaces where the people gather weekly and celebrate the Lord’s Supper at least quarterly. Yet, we have no idea how long it will be before we are safely able to assemble in person.
The Office of the General Assembly has issued an Advisory Opinion on Church in an Emergency/Pandemic, which many of you have seen. It includes a section on the celebration of the Lord’s Supper during an electronic worship service. The opinion references W-3.0414 referring to situations in which some persons would be physically present where the elements are consecrated, while others would wait to have the elements delivered to them. It therefore concludes “If it is not reasonable to share communion in person as soon as possible after the service for reasons of a public health order, the session should cease and postpone the Lord’s Supper until such time as it is reasonably safe to resume the celebration of the Lord’s supper.”
In the current circumstances, however, most worshipers will be gathering at the same time in the emerging reality of cyberspace. In this common space, the celebrant will offer thanks for all the elements which are offered by all worshipers, and therefore all will partake together. We believe that the guidance which we, as your Stated Clerks, offer here is faithful in spirit to both the theology and polity of the PCUSA. At the same time, it should be understood as a work in progress, about which there will undoubtedly be much discussion both within the Presbytery of Baltimore and beyond.
Prayerful discernment is and should be at the heart of all decision making. Therefore, as Sessions plan for worship and the observance of the Lord’s Supper in these unprecedented circumstances, we urge you to keep in mind both the OGA opinion cited, which is not explicitly prohibitive, and the theology of this Sacrament which we affirm is “integral to the Service for the Lord’s Day.” W-3.0415
John V. Carlson
Mary D. Gaut