A post on the absence of Eucharist from the life of the United Methodist Church.
Catching up on some blogs I missed while away.
Teddy Ray has some helpful suggestions for pastors wanting to move to weekly celebration of Holy Communion.
The comments include a link to a good post by retired Bishop Whitaker about the importance of using the church’s prayer of Great Thanksgiving in the celebration.
Drew McIntyre offers an extended reflection and commentary on the Eucharist table as the center of a protest at General Conference 2012.
In a world of partisan politics, bitter divides, and thoughtless polemic, the Eucharist should be one place where God reaches through all of the muck and mire to speak a word of grace and peace. The Lord’s Table is where, like Christ, we are taken, blessed, broken, and given. To make the Eucharist our act instead of God’s, a mere tool in a game of political manipulation rather than a sacrament of God’s grace, is a great disservice to Christ and his church.
Here is something Elaine Heath wrote elsewhere in response to reactions from her presentation at the United Theological Seminary conference I attended yesterday:
Yesterday I participated in a very interesting conference on Theology, Eucharist, and Ministry in Dayton, Ohio. My assignment was to make remarks on evangelism and the Eucharist, the remarks being a sort of précis of a chapter I’ll be writing for the forthcoming volume on the Eucharist that will be published by Kingswood. I am already hearing back from people who heard things I did not actually say, so I want to say again here, what I will be writing about in that chapter. It is okay with me if you want to share these few words with someone. I focused on the kenotic meaning of the Eucharist, how when we take the bread and wine we are not only receiving the salvific love of God, but we are offering ourselves as a living sacrifice to work in union with that missional God. Quoting Nouwen, I described this as our offering ourselves to God to be “taken, blessed, broken, and given.” I lifted up the kenotic hymn of Phil. 2:6-11 which urges all Christians, not just clergy, to follow this path of receiving and giving in the eucharistic life, and named the eucharistic life to which every Christian is called, as a life of ongoing martyrdom. I called attention to the fact that we have serious theological problems with a closed table in some cases, and a gated table in others, where very few can actually preside at a UM table. I raised the question about the assumptions behind this tradition, with regard to who is capable of the degree of sanctity and training and accountability to reliably and with integrity offer the bread and wine to neighbors, particularly with regard to the inherently kenotic meaning of the Eucharist. I framed this as a missional and evangelistic matter for us to explore honestly and openly in light of our missional call as Wesleyans. I assured people during the Q&A that in our communities in Dallas and in my teaching in the Academy we adhere strictly to UM tradition with communion only being served by elders. Thus what I am doing is simply inviting further reflection on the deeper meaning of the Eucharist and its implications in how we carry out our missional and eucharistic vocation. There are ramifications here, of course, as to what constitutes the pastoral vocation, if it is not presiding over the sacraments. I will get into that in my chapter. Meanwhile, be assured, I follow and teach others to follow our tradition as it has evolved up to this time. Thank you for your kindness and charity.
At the very interesting conference on Eucharist in Methodism sponsored by United Theological Seminary, we heard a great deal about the importance of the Eucharist in the life of the church and Christian discipleship. Among the topics was a fair bit of conversation about ecumenical efforts between Methodists (including United Methodists) and Roman Catholics.
Then Elaine Heath said the most attention-grabbing thing at the conference.
I was not taking notes so do not have her exact words, but in a brief talk on Eucharist and evangelism she made a passionate plea for allowing laity to preside at the table of the Lord. She seemed frustrated by restriction of sacramental of authority to elders (and deacons and local pastors on a limited basis).
Some of the people gathered pumped fists and glee. Some looked both surprised and a bit upset. The pastor sitting next to me and I traded a “wow” after her talk ended. I was a bit surprised that during the Q&A she did not get any push back or criticism, especially from the advocates of closer communion with the Roman Catholic Church, which I presume would not view lay administration of the sacraments as a step toward full communion.
Lots of interesting stuff was said at the conference, but that was certainly the “did she just say that?” moment.
Note: See this post for Elaine Heath’s elaboration about her statements.
On Thursday, May 17, I’ll be at United Theological Seminary’s Theology, Eucharist, and Ministry Conference.
Here is the conference statement of purpose:
For John and Charles Wesley, few things were more important for both theology and ministry than attentiveness to the Lord’s Supper. In recent years, Wesleyan theologians and church leaders have lamented a decline in attentiveness to the Eucharist in Wesleyan theology and ministry. Some have gone so far as to suggest that a decline in sacramental vitality is at the heart of the wider pattern of decline in Wesleyan churches.
At this event, seventeen Wesleyan theologians will call for the restoration of the Eucharist to its rightful place as the heart of theology and ministry in the Wesleyan tradition. Indeed, what will be offered is nothing less than a vision of theology and ministry in which the Eucharist is understood both as a vital means of grace by which Christians participate together in the Trinitarian life of God and the well-spring from which the whole of Christian life and ministry flows.
If you can’t be in Dayton to see it in person, you can watch it livestreaming.
The two main sesssions are:
- 9:00 a.m. “The Trinity and the Eucharist” Geoffrey Wainwright, Duke Divinity School; Matthew Levering, University of Dayton, responding
- 1:00 p.m. “Eucharist and Ethics” Rebekah Miles, Perkins School of Theology; Joyce Ann Zimmerman, Institute for Liturgical Ministry, responding
If you tune into the livestream, I’ll be the one with the rainbow wig and the John 3:16 sign.
Those Roman Catholics take their religion seriously. (At least some of them do.)
Two stories caught my eye.
The first is about a seminary professor who wrote on his blog that New York governor Andrew Cuomo should be barred from taking Holy Communion because he is shacking up with his girlfriend. So far, the bishop of Albany is ignoring this suggestion, but the seminary professor appears to have supporters.
Imagine if a professor at Duke wrote something similar about a United Methodist politician living in sin. Can you even imagine that happening?
The second story was about a Roman Catholic priest who was stripped of his sacramental authority after he celebrated the Mass with a Presbyterian minister. The priest wrote a contrite message to his parish in which he admitted his grave mistake and submitted to whatever correction the bishop saw fit to impose.
Again, can you imagine this happening with a United Methodist?
Could you imagine a United Methodist congregation writing angry letters to the bishop because the elder at their church mishandled the sacraments?