Saturday, August 25, 2007

Changes in Sacramental Authority in the UMC

We had quite a lively discussion about the role of UMC local pastors in providing the sacraments.

Although I am a local pastor now, I have no serious objection to the Order of Elders restricting the administration of the sacraments to itself alone. It would certainly be in keeping with Methodist tradition and history.

Nonetheless, Elders should not look forward to the day when and if such legislation is passed in General Conference. From that day on, it will be the responsibility of the Order of Elders to provide the sacraments as they are needed. That means, in my little church, for example, an elder must appear at least one Sunday every month to offer the Eucharist and baptism.

Kurt Boemler was, at one time, a Lay Missioner. He functioned as a lay pastor without sacramental authority. Here, he shares horror stories of his attempts to get communion elements properly blessed by an elder, such as having to drive three hours routinely to find an elder willing to bless the elements.

That's unacceptable. If the Order of Elders is going to have the sole sacramental authority in the United Methodist Church, then it is the sole responsibility of that Order to ensure that the sacraments are available to all who seek them when they seek them. Our tradition may hold that only the ordained administer the sacraments, but it also insists that Holy Communion be taken constantly. Instead of laypeople going to great lengths to beg an elder to bless the elements, let it be the responsibility of the elder to make the three-hour drives to the congregation that needs the sacraments.

If the General Conference considers legislation that restricts sacramental authority to Elders, I have no objection so as long as that same legislation also places the responsibility of providing the sacraments entirely on the Order of Elders.

Absent such explicit responsibility on Elders, we shall see more degradation of Holy Communion as Kurt relates. His experiences include having the elements blessed retroactively, having them blessed over the telephone, and having them blessed after being left on an elder's doorstep. How, I ask, is this somehow more reverent treatment of Holy Communion than Dan Trabue's experience of laypeople leading the Eucharist? How is God honored by a blessing of this sort?

I further ask the Elders who think that only they should serve the sacraments: are you willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that everyone who wants them has access? Because if not, then we should not move forward with this proposal.

I will not insist upon sacramental authority for myself as a licensed local pastor. But I do insist upon my flock being administered the sacraments.


Anonymous said...

First, a local pastor driving to an elder's house/office to have the elements blessed is absolutely against good sound theology and reason. It makes us Methodists look like idiots. *sarcasm*And we pride ourselves on being educated!*/sarcasm* Elements cannot be blessed over the phone, left on a door step, etc. It's not magic, people. This makes me so mad.

Second, an elder would not have to come to your church on a monthly basis, because no where is monthly Communion a mandate. An elder would have to come on a *regular* basis. At a minimum, Eucharist and Baptisms could take place once a year (at Charge Conference.) That would certainly not be the ideal.

What I don't understand, in all honesty, is why we let just about any one pastor a church, and thus preach every Sunday, but not celebrate the Eucharist. To me, preparing a sermon every week takes a whole lot more preparation than praying the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving. And I personally know of people who are allowed to preach on a weekly basis whose theology is questionable. We have non-UM's preaching (as supply pastors). There is no questioning by the district Board of Ordained Ministry.

The UMC is very frustrating, as I am sure other denominations are too.

Very Very Frustrating


Anonymous said...

By the way, I am an Elder in Full Connection who went two weeks ago to two rural churches in a neighboring district to celebrate Eucharist. I am in an extension ministry appointment, so I am free on Sunday mornings. The pastor is not UM and is a supply pastor. That means she has not been to local pastor's school and is not a local pastor.

I will be going tomorrow to another church within my own district to celebrate the Eucharist.

I have a Presbyterian friend who is trying to find someone to celebrate the Eucharist in a Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterian pastors she contacted each charged a minimum of $200 PLUS mileage and one even charged an ADDITIONAL $50 for meals!!! I was outraged.

I would be curious to know what the norm is for UM Elders who go to celebrate Eucharist. Mileage? Honorarium?


Lorna (see through faith) said...

But I do insist upon my flock being administered the sacraments.

With the nearest elder to us being at least 3 hours away (one way) we'd be heading back to the times of the puritans where some flocks in the US were unable to have communion for 16 years because there was no ordained ministers

I have a suggestion. Why not ask the local Anglican/Epicopalian Lutheran or someone to do this for you. Save all that driving ... better still why not just amalgamate with the church down the road

at this rate the UMC will be both morally and spiritually bankrupt if we carry on like this.

What did Jesus tell the followers to do -and how did the early church - the very early church - go about it.

I don't get this at all :( crazy! - unless of course UMC doesn't really think much of Eucharist and Baptism afterall.

David said...

I think the idea of Elders being the persons on circuit to administer the sacraments is a great shift, and one I could get on board with. This is where the Methodist church started out (and where the parsonage came in-to have a place for the pastor to stay when he arrived from the field work at hand). As one who likes to be on the move this could be a pleasant change, returning the ministry of day-to-day operations back to the laity (maybe even do away with a few committees [SPRC]-or committees altogether).
Could be some interesting days, and would mean that the shortage of Elders would be a non-issue.

Anonymous said...

The problem is even worse than this: one of the rubrics from our new Communion study: This Holy Mystery; says that the elements are only to be blessed at the time of celebration. That means no more phone blessings, etc. The officiant needs to be with the people who will be partaking of the sacrament. Here we see illustrated the basic clash between our theology and our pragmatism. Which will win? I'd put my money on our pragmatism!

Stephen said...


I agree completely, which is also why the ministry study almost included another controversial issue that most elders fussed about... "NO guaranteed appointments". It was taken out in this draft, but most Bishops are seeing this in the future for the Methodist Church.

That if you can't perform the duties of your ordination as an Elder than you won't be an Elder with authority anywhere. Stories like those you mentioned are sickening and hurtful to our denomination.

The Thief said...

When this issue was discussed in the West Ohio Annual Conference, one elder was in favor of this change because it would make the smaller churches grow or close.

John said...

Could be some interesting days, and would mean that the shortage of Elders would be a non-issue.

Oh, how I laugh when I hear about this imaginary 'shortage' of Elders! There's no such thing.