NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nearly 100 clergy and laity from six annual conferences in the Southeast Jurisdiction determined the importance of the sacrament of Holy Communion is important to United Methodists. The determination came as a reaction to a paper developed by the denomination’s 19-member Holy Communion Study Committee
During the committee’s Nov. 13-16 meeting, participants engaged in a "listening post" to share their concerns about the sacrament and what each hoped would be the result of the study. One of the main concerns was upholding the “open table” – keeping the communion table open to all, as practiced by the United Methodists. The classical order of Christian sacraments of Baptism leading to communion was a main topic for discussion as well, since many United Methodists share a passion for the Holy Communion in spite of different practices and understandings.
The committee is conducting listening posts in each of the five jurisdictions of the church and individual members are holding sessions in representative central conferences in Europe, Africa and the Philippines.
The 2000 General Conference mandated the United Methodist Board of Discipleship form a Holy Communion study committee to bring to the 2004 session a comprehensive paper on the theology and practice of Holy Communion. Representatives from the denomination’s Board of Higher Education and Ministry, Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns and Council of Bishops were also invited
"The aim of the committee as it deliberates is to create a ‘centrist’ document that paints in clear strokes the fullest and best of our United Methodist Holy Communion tradition, both our theology and practice, " said the Rev. Dan Benedict, a committee member and Board of Discipleship executive.
In earlier meetings, the committee agreed that it was not charged with changing the ritual of the church as contained in the denomination’s hymnals and book of worship or with generating legislation. Benedict said that while the proposed paper may at points identify practices that "are not compatible with our understanding, the intent is to create a positive vision of what Holy Communion can be in United Methodist churches."
The Nov. 14 session showed the participants’ want for pastors to be better trained and more effective as leaders and teachers who interpret the sacrament to congregations. United Methodists want a study document that church members can read and understand, Benedict said. They want the church to provide clear guidance in relationship to the Lord’s Supper and to provide print and electronic resources for learning their way into vital Eucharistic celebration.
In response to several deacons’ suggestion to be clear about their role in communion, GenXer, a panelist at the table clearly stated that he was looking for tradition and mystery in celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
In another session, the committee made resolved the question of the invitation to the table. Members agreed that a middle way had to be found that honored the "open table" as a welcome to all and "that upholds recognition of the nature of Christian discipleship inherent in sharing life in union with Christ’s sacrifice for us," Benedict said.
The key to dealing with the question seemed to revolve around the nature of the invitation as Christ’s welcome and call to all who "do truly and earnestly repent of your sins and are in love and charity with your neighbor, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God…” he said, while quoting invitation found in the Word and Table IV service of the United Methodist Hymnal.
Though the language is yet to be worked out, the committee was affirmed a necessary balance of an open welcome with a clear invitation to a disciplined life.
The committee’s work is currently represented in three documents: a comprehensive list of the contents to be covered and two drafts called "This Holy Mystery" that were developed out of questions dealt with at the second and third meetings of the committee. The Rev. Gayle C. Felton, the principal writer for the Holy Communion Study Committee will compile several pieces into one document by early January.
The committee will next meet March 6-9 in Evanston, Ill., hosting a listening post there on March 8. The final meeting of the committee will be June 16-19 in Oklahoma City, Okla.
By Pauline J.