PITTSBURGH – Delegates to the Jan. 29-31 United Methodist Church Pre-General Conference News Briefing in Pittsburgh previewed the four-year study on the denomination’s understanding of the Holy Communion.
The study committee to “This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion," found in general that lay people across the church want more than they are receiving.
Pastors need to be better educated in sacramental theology and practice, and church leaders must hold pastors accountable for their sacramental theology, practice and teaching, according to Rev. Gayle C. Felton, the author of the Holy Communion document.
"United Methodist congregations are encouraged to move toward a richer sacramental life, including weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper at the services on the Lord's Day," states the "Holy Mystery" report.
The report also looked into grace and the meaning of grace within the church’s Wesleyan tradition.
According to Felton, United Methodists have always talked a great deal about grace, but its meaning may not be clear, especially to those who are most active in the church.
The document also addresses a controversy across the denomination about who is welcome at the table or to whom is the invitation given: Is Holy Communion only for the baptized or is it open to everyone? Who is worthy to receive it?
"Any person who answers in faith the invitation, 'Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another,' is worthy through Christ to partake of Holy Communion," the study says.
Concerns about unworthiness are based largely on misinterpretation and false fears. "Within the United Methodist tradition, people who participate in the sacrament are assured of the forgiveness of their sins and of pardon through their participation in the Invitation and the Confession and Pardon," the document states.
In addition, the document says the table is open to all who would partake of the sacrament and calls on pastors and other church leaders to alleviate the fears and worthiness concerns through counseling, teaching and prayers for healing.
"This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion" is available for study and download at the United Methodist Board of Discipleship's Web site at www.gbod.org/legislation/hcfinal2.pdf.
The “Holy Mystery” documents will be re-examined for approval during the UMC 2004 General Conference, April 27-May 7.