Communion During the Pandemic

I have realized that earlier this spring I thought a great deal about how to faithfully be a minister of the sacrament during the pandemic. I had some conversations with colleagues, Worship and Music planning team members, and Trinity’s church council. But I never shared my theological and sacramental assumptions and thinking with our entire congregation. We reached Easter Sunday and I simply said it was time to celebrate Holy Communion in the homes, with little explanation.

Here is what I wrote to synodical bishop, Kristen Keumpel, on March 20, knowing she was preparing a document about Holy Communion during this strange time:

“I was at first crushed when you told us to hold off on Holy Communion over the internet. I have been doing the theology in my head, discussed with Worship and Music Tuesday and council last night via Zoom, about introducing it at the end of Facebook Live this Sunday and getting people prepared to have elements in their home the 29th.

We are hungry for the Lord’s Supper but simultaneously committed to being part of the larger church. So we will wait. I so appreciate you being open to this.

We Gen X pastors went through seminary 15-30 years ago, post Vatican II and post worship renewal movement. We were taught to value the Means of Grace [sacraments of Holy Communion and Holy Baptism]. It worked. Most of us love the sacraments and we taught our congregations to love the sacraments. We bring them up in our sermons. We teach classes. We carefully equip Home-Communion Ministers. We even use the Evangelical Lutheran Worship [hymnal] prayer once or twice a month for sending Communion with these ministers.

We have never been in this space before. Televangelists did not have relationships with their viewers like I have with my parishioners watching Facebook Live. They also did not value the sacrament. When the church experienced the 1918 flu, Lutherans were not yet celebrating Holy Communion every week. There is no theology written specifically for these circumstances–when Lutherans hunger for the Lord’s Supper weekly, we have the current technology, and we are experiencing a pandemic (an emergency situation). I want to ask the people arguing against Holy Communion in the homes watching pastors on screens, ‘You know when the practical theology for this will be written? In the spring of 2020.’

But then I look at the phone tree/buddy system my council created last week and am reminded that this can all wait several weeks and just tend to the relationships Manlove.”

The most helpful piece I read about Holy Communion during the Pandemic was written by California Lutheran University Campus Pastor Hazel Salizar-Davidson. Please read her thoughtful and storied reflection.

Salazar-Davidson ends, “Practicing the Eucharist in our homes makes sense to this time and this place. Practicing it virtually alongside other believers is necessary. The table looks differently than we have ever experienced before but we are still setting the table.  Communion does two things. It builds community. That’s in the name. It also offers God’s presence without us needing to do anything to ask for it or receive it. We just get to be there as God resides among us while we eat and drink. I believe real presence is in the meal and in the lives of those that taste and see – no matter how, when, or where we have the meal. I believe that we, as pastors, deacons, and lay people can facilitate real presence in many ways into the lives of those who wish to be a part of the body of Christ. I believe I have been called to do just that. Let the church be the church. We are all called to facilitate, witness, engage in the overlapping of virtual and physical realms and to stand in awe of the Spirit’s presence.”

Before Easter Sunday 2020, Bishop Keumpel did complete “Communion in Extreme Circumstances,” which is on the Northwest Intermountain Synod website. Some of Trinity’s homebound members have used this document in their homes, setting up a home altar and participating in Holy Communion. The document also allowed our congregation to join other congregations in the synod, celebrating Holy Communion weekly, whether we are using Facebook Live or Youtube.

Home Communion in this new way has taken some getting used to for some of our members. Like all new faith practices, this one has taken some practicing. And our leadership at Trinity is still figuring out how to make sure that everyone can celebrate Holy Communion while we are not worshiping in-person in our sanctuary. Below are some photos of home altars shared by parishioners.

Penelope Smith’s recent home altar

Winwood’s Easter home altar

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