A letter to clergy from Bishop Laurie regarding Holy Communion and Palm Sunday Great Thanksgiving

A letter to clergy from Bishop Laurie regarding Holy Communion and Palm Sunday Great Thanksgiving

March 30, 2020

To the Clergy of The Iowa Annual Conference, 
 
These days marked by the pandemic of Covid-19 are confusing, scary and isolating. As I have been in prayer for our beloved Conference, I have been reflecting on Holy Communion and the way that we, as the body of Christ, experience that sacrament as a means of sustaining and saving grace. In this time of social distancing, we are one body physically separated into many parts, but we remain spiritually united as “one with each other, one with Christ and one in ministry to all of the world.” 
 
After a period of prayerful discernment, I am extending permission for live-streaming worship services to include the sacrament of Holy Communion. The privilege of administering the sacrament in this way is granted to all elders and licensed local pastors under appointment in the Iowa Conference of The United Methodist Church and will be in effect until most churches are once again able to gather in person for worship. Permission is expressly and only granted for live worship, not for pre-recorded services intended for later use. I ask that you honor this important distinction.  
 
I grant this permission around the Sacrament of Holy Communion informed by the theological precedent set by the historic church known as In ExtremisIn Extremis (in extreme circumstances) is a Latin term claimed by the church during the Black Plague; this approach allowed clergy to respond to a very extreme and difficult health crisis and guided the church in a response of care and hospitality.  
 
I believe this special provision for Communion during our current international health crisis is thoroughly consistent with our Wesleyan understanding of the sacrament. We know there is much brokenness and loss in God’s world, and while we are not able to gather in our buildings, we boldly witness to the world that when we break bread together, the living Christ is indeed with us. As we pray the liturgy of The Great Thanksgiving, we are remembering who and whose we are. When we hear the words “the body and blood of Christ that we may be for the world the body of Christ redeemed by his blood,” we are re-membered and thus reconnected with God. Proclaiming that we are “one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world,” we bear witness to our deep fellowship with all God’s people. 
 
I understand that some clergy in our Conference may come more readily to an understanding of how offering live-stream communion—though not our standard practice—is compatible with a full-bodied theology of sacrament and pastoral care during this time of in extremis. For others, if after prayer and reflection, you discern that this is not a practice that you are ready to adopt, I trust that you will offer a modified version of The Love Feast that is traditionally held at a table or in a circle.
 
I offer these liturgical resources of table to you, gathered by Discipleship Ministries:  I commend to you these options and fully trust in your wisdom to determine which approach is best for you and your community of faith. I invite you to sit with your leadership and prayerfully and deeply discern which resource will faithfully meet the spiritual needs of your community. Whether you choose Holy Communion or The Love Feast, I ask that you give the invitation early enough in your live-stream service for those participating to gather up their own bread and juice (or other appropriate elements). You could advise folks that if they have no juice, they may forego that element since for centuries it was common practice to use only bread. In this period when we are advised to limit the size of our gatherings in order to avoid possible contraction or spread of the Covid-19 virus, we do not want our people to feel obliged to make a run to the store to buy bread and grape juice. And even for those congregations practicing drive-in style worship, I urge you to encourage folks to bring their own elements. This will help them fully participate while also maintaining necessary social distancing.
 
Let us practice special care for the body and souls of our people in this extraordinary time. I pray that for you and those you serve, both the Sacrament of Holy Communion and The Love Feast will continue to be a means of grace to help all know they are loved and belong to God and one another.
 
I am grateful for the many innovative ways that you are extending your ministries of care, teaching and worship. In spite of many obstacles, your efforts have helped our people share in holy worship, participate in small groups, give and receive pastoral care, and share in administrative leadership. Thank you for the deep and genuine care you have shown for your congregations and the larger community in these difficult times. We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord. 

Attached is a Palm Sunday Order of Worship including The Great Thanksgiving to use during Covid-19 pandemic.
 
In Christ,
 
Bishop Laurie
 
The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone.  Acts 2: 42-47a (CEB)