Holy Communion in the Midst of a Global Pandemic

March 21, 2020
We are living through a time that has not been experienced in generations. What follows is a series of tools that we hope help each of you exegete your context and provide some wisdom as you pastor in your setting.
In the end, each of us must allow our pastoral hearts and Wesleyan theological center to guide us as we seek to extend sacramental ministry to our communities. We know that sacraments and sacramental acts are desperately needed in times like this. The question becomes what best expresses the fullness of your community's encounter with Jesus Christ.

"I continue to hold each of you in prayer during these extraordinary times. Many of you are working to connect with your congregation in new and creative ways utilizing technology," says Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey. "I am thankful for Reverends Lane Cotton Winn and Juan Huertas who responded to my request without hesitation and in an extremely expedient fashion created options that I believe will be incredibly helpful to all of you as you celebrate the sacraments using technology. The first document will provide you an overview and rationale for celebrating the sacraments virtually at such a time as this." 

In light of this, we must support and care for one another in the different ways we may choose to proceed. Not all of us will choose to respond to the sacramental needs in the same way, but we will do so in light of the covenant that we have taken and the communities that we have been empowered to lead.
Below are three unique rituals for your worshipping body during this season of social distancing and self-quarantining. Each will require care and interpretation for your congregation.

Virtual Communion

For such a time as this, we will allow virtual Holy Communion under the church’s theological understanding of In Extremis which means that, we will allow an irregular practice, like in other unprecedented times in the life of the church.
During times of extreme hardship and difficulty, such as now, In Extremis, the Latin term coined during the European Black Death plague in 1530, enables us to assume the posture of Christian hospitality in order to extend the ministry of the Church. Fast forward to 2020, and this may mean that you are feeling called to offer virtual Communion to your congregation as an extension of the Church and our historic practice of openness at the table. This is not to become common practice.

Download A Eucharistic Prayer for the 2020 Global Pandemic

Practicalities about Virtual Communion

An announcement at the Beginning of Worship:
 It is important that the people at home are not distracted at the time of the Great Thanksgiving trying to get the elements ready.
  1. Today’s service will include sharing in Holy Communion (the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, or whatever name is common for your congregation).
  2. Please take a moment to prepare your Communion elements.
  3. You will want to gather: Bread/crackers and grape juice. If you do not have grape juice, use your best judgment on a replacement (i.e. juice, water, wine).
During The Great Thanksgiving
The Great Thanksgiving, found in The United Methodist Hymnal, The United Methodist Book of Worship, or other appropriate sources should be used or at the very least the Words of Institution (retelling the story of the Last Supper) and the Epiclesis (Prayer asking the Holy Spirit upon us and the communion elements), must be part of the liturgical celebration.
Pastor leads the liturgy, from their virtual location, as referenced above, and encourages the congregation to participate fully.
Sharing in Holy Communion
Remember to invite everyone present to partake.
After Worship
When the service concludes, instruct the congregation that their remaining Communion elements can be consumed or returned to the earth.
Attached is a sample Communion Liturgy, A Eucharistic Prayer for the 2020 Global Pandemic by Rev. Juan Huertas and Rev. Lane Cotton Winn

Wesleyan Love Feast

Download the Wesleyan Love Feast

The Love Feast, from The United Methodist Book of Worship, is a Christian fellowship meal recalling the meals Jesus shared with disciples during his ministry and expressing the koinonia (community, sharing, fellowship) enjoyed by the family of Christ.
Although its origins in the early church are closely interconnected with the origins of the Lord's Supper, the two services became quite distinct and should not be confused with each other. While the Lord's Supper has been practically universal among Christians throughout church history, the Love Feast has appeared only at certain times and among certain denominations.
Note: Like the Eucharist, we recognize that the pastor will need to encourage ways for those at home to participate fully in the Love Feast experience. This includes, preparation and instruction before the service begins.

“Comfort Food: A Feast of Love” by Dr. Marcia McFee

Download Comfort Food: A Love Feast by Dr. Marcia McFee
A traditional Wesleyan Love Feast is a very specific service of singing and testimonials, but with no sermon. Dr. McFee has designed a hybrid service between the ancient Agape meal and a Wesleyan Love Feast that can be included in online Sunday worship, in which you will likely be preaching.
This liturgy was designed specifically for this season of social distancing, and we are thankful that Dr. McFee is sharing it with us. She is suggesting its use on weeks in which Communion would normally be shared, while we are not able to gather together.
Additional suggestions from Dr. McFee:
  • This service invites people to gather at their family table with a meal - nothing fancy.
  • If you are using an online platform that enables worshippers to comment, you should encourage them to take pictures of themselves at their tables and post them in the comments. This helps people feel more connected.
  • If possible, assign an “engagement host” who’s helping with the online chat experience, as well - encouraging people to comment, share their prayer requests, etc.

Additional Resources from the General Board of Discipleship