Today’s post is excerpted from the ELCA Worship FAQ How can we provide for communion of the ill, homebound, and imprisoned?
A celebration of Holy Communion in the home, at the bedside of an ill or homebound person, or in a clinical setting such as a nursing home, hospital or hospice, is one way for congregations to provide for communion of the ill, homebound, imprisoned and others. This church provides two ways for this ministry to be carried out: a service of Holy Communion led by an ordained pastor or a distribution of the bread and wine that has been sent from the Sunday assembly’s worship.
Holy Communion in Special Circumstances
The Pastoral Care volume of Evangelical Lutheran Worship outlines a service of Holy Communion to be presided at by an ordained pastor. This service resembles the Gathering, Word, Meal and Sending of the Holy Communion service, but may be adapted and abbreviated as needed.
The strength of this form for communing the ill, homebound, and imprisoned is that it ties together the proclamation of the Word through the Words of Institution, the pastoral office, and the ministry to the ill. Another important dimension is the link between pastoral care to the sick and homebound and ministry at the time of death. When pastors regularly visit and commune those who are approaching the end of life, they are forming relationships that will be helpful when providing pastoral care and liturgical leadership at the time of death.
The weakness of this service is that unless special care is taken to involve family members or members of the congregation in the bedside or home celebration of the sacrament, it can appear to be happening apart from the life and ministry of the congregation.
The Sending of Holy Communion
In a second option, the communion elements received by the ill, homebound, or imprisoned have been broken and shared at the assembly’s worship and then brought to them. The introductory rubric for this service states:
This order extends the assembly’s service of Holy Communion by sending ministers from the assembly, bearing the gifts of God’s word and sacramental meal to those who are unable to be present in public worship. This ministry offers these people (such as those who are sick, homebound, or imprisoned) a means of participating in the worship of the whole assembly, and it helps those who have gathered publicly to recognize their oneness with sisters and brothers who are absent. (Pastoral Care, p. 81)
It is important to note that in the outline for Holy Communion in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, the first suggested element of the Sending rite is this “Sending of Communion” (p. 93). The strength, then, of this service is the link it provides between the gathered assembly and those not able to be present in worship. The communion table is made wider by this sending and in larger congregations this service can be a practical help for pastors who have many homebound members.
The weakness of this option is the opposite of the strength mentioned in the service for those in special circumstances (above). This service cannot be a regular substitute for pastoral visits, as the connection with the pastor can be very valuable, especially in smaller congregations where there is only one pastor.
As with other lay ministries, preparation and teaching are essential. The pastor and other leaders will want both to engage in careful teaching and explanation to those who receive these ministries, and to train those who will carry it out. Preparation should also include prior contact with the absent member to arrange for either a celebration with the pastor or distribution by lay ministers.