Communion ... Some Questions and Answers
United Methodists and Communion
Some Questions & Answers
Why do United Methodists call this sharing of bread and cup by different names, such as Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, and
Each of these names is taken from the New Testament and highlights certain facets of this sacrament’s many meanings. Calling it the Lord’s Supper reminds us that it is a meal instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ and hosted by him at his table whenever it takes place. Calling it Holy Communion reminds us that it is an act of the most holy and intimate sharing, making us one with Jesus Christ and part of his body, the church. Calling it the Eucharist, a term taken from the New Testament Greek word meaning thanksgiving, reminds us that giving thanks to God for all that God has done is an essential part of the meal. By using different names we acknowledge that no single name can contain the rich wealth of meanings in this sacred act.
What do United Methodists mean when they call this act a sacrament?
Our Confession of Faith states: “We believe the sacraments, ordained by Christ, are symbols and pledges of the Christian’s profession and of God’s love toward us. They are means of grace by which God works invisibly in us, quickening [bringing to life], strengthening and confirming our faith in him. Two Sacraments are ordained by Christ our Lord, namely Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” The term is taken from the Latin sacramentum, which was a Roman soldier’s pledge of allegiance. A sacrament is God‘s pledge of allegiance [love and faithfulness] to us, and our answering pledge of allegiance to God.
Do United Methodists believe that the bread and wine physically or chemically change into Christ’s flesh and blood in this sacrament?
No, we believe that the change is spiritual. They signify the body and blood of Christ for us, helping us to be Christ’s body in the world today, redeemed by Christ’s blood. We pray over the bread and the cup that they may make us one with Christ, “one with each other, and one in service to all the world.”
I am a Christian, but not a United Methodist. Am I invited to receive Communion in a United Methodist church?
Yes indeed. It is the Lord’s Supper, not ours, and it is Christ who invites you. As our ritual puts it: “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.” We do not refuse any who present themselves desiring to receive. Whether you should receive Communion with us is between you and God.
I do not wish to receive Communion because doing so would be disloyal to my religion or my denomination. May I attend a United Methodist Communion service and not receive Communion?
Yes indeed. We do not want anyone to feel unwelcome because, for whatever reason, they do not choose to receive Communion. Simply remain seated when others go forward, or pass the bread and cup along if they are passed to you, and no one will question what you do.
Should I receive Communion if I feel unworthy?
Two thousand years ago Jesus ate with sinners and those whom others scorned. He still does. None of us is worthy, except by God’s grace. Thank God we don’t have to earn worth in God’s eyes by our goodness or our faith. Your sacred worth, and ours, is God’s free gift. No matter what you have done or what your present condition, if you want Christ in your life you are welcome at his table. Communion provides the opportunity for you to confess your sins, to receive forgiveness, and to indicate your intention to lead a new life.
May young children receive Communion?
Certainly. As The United Methodist Book of Worship puts it, “All who intend to lead a Christian life, together with their children, are invited to receive the bread and cup.” We remember that when some of Jesus’ disciples tried to keep children away from him he said: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Mark 10:14 NRSV).
But do young children know what they are doing when they receive Communion?
Do they understand the full meaning of this holy sacrament? No, and neither do any of us. It is a wonderful mystery, and children can sense wonder and mystery. Children cannot understand the full significance of family meals, but we feed them at our family tables and at Christ’s family table. Young children experience being loved by being fed. They sense the difference between being included and excluded at a family meal. They have the faith of a child, appropriate to their stage of development, which Jesus recognized and honored. Indeed, he said to adults: “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15 NRSV).
May I receive Communion without standing or kneeling?
Certainly. In some United Methodist congregations most persons receive Communion while standing, while in others most receive while kneeling; but you are always welcome to receive while seated. If others are kneeling at the rail, you may remain standing and you will be served. You may also come forward and be seated on the front row, or come forward in your wheelchair, and you will be served. Or you may notify an usher, and someone will come to you and serve you where you are seated.
If someone in my family wishes to receive Communion but cannot come to the church service, can Communion be brought to them?
Certainly. As an extension of the congregation’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper, Communion is brought to persons, wherever they are, who wish it but could not attend the service. This can be done by the pastor or other clergy, or by designated laypersons.
Is Communion possible at weddings, at healing services, or at funerals or memorial services?
Yes. If you wish to arrange this, talk with your pastor.
At our best . . .
We embrace God’s grace.
God loves us completely before we know it. That love, that grace, is a free gift offered to all people. We accept God’s free gift of love through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ and open ourselves to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, who accompanies us and empowers us to become like Christ for the world. One God creates in love, saves us for the sake of love, and renews us through love.
We follow three simple rules.
These General Rules have governed Methodists from the beginning of the movement:
• first—do no harm by thought, word, or action;
• second—do all the good you can in building up the body of Christ and in loving and serving others and all of creation;
• third—follow the ordinances (spiritual practices) of God including the Lord’s Supper, study of the Scriptures, prayer, and good works. Though these rules may be simple to say, they are not easy to follow. We need one another and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to guide, motivate, and help us remember to keep it simple and keep our focus on God.
We are a connected community.
The people of The United Methodist Church are The United Methodist Church, loving God and neighbor. Clergy and laity are equal partners in leadership, but Christ is the head of the church.
We are connected through our structure, our will, and the power of the Holy Spirit to learn how to be Christ in and for the world. Each individual builds a relationship with God in community with the local congregation, which is linked and knit together with other congregations and with the larger body (regional conferences, denominational service and support agencies, and the General Conference, which sets policy and direction for the global United Methodist Church). Together, as the body of Christ, we shine the light of God’s love throughout the world!
We are devoted to social holiness.
“There is no holiness but social holiness.” Our tradition of social justice began with John Wesley; it continues with us; and it is our hope for future generations. We take the joy of the gospel story to the world in word and action as
• advocates for the poor and marginalized;
• active participants in the work for restorative justice;
• environmental accountability;
• equality of access to the essentials of life (food, clothing, shelter, health care, and education) and to opportunity;
• political and personal freedom;
• the dignity and value of each person and all people;
• building a world of trustworthy relationships among people and between people and God.
We are compassionate and generous.
The United Methodist Church reaches out with deep compassion to help hurting people. Our United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is quickly on the scene all over the world to provide aid, love, and care to victims of natural disasters, violence, and warfare. The offerings collected in local congregations help support the work of the church in the neighborhood, the community, and the world. It is the people, however, who do that work, who are the body of Christ in and for the world.
We are open and diverse.
Jesus sought out and welcomed all who wished to know and love God—the poor and marginalized as well as the powerful. The Methodist movement brought new life to this focus on openness and diversity, taking the good news beyond the church walls to meet people where they were, to nurture and strengthen them as human beings and beloved children of God, and to send them out to continue sharing the joyful message of God’s love.
Our Social Creed
We believe in God, Creator of the world; and in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of creation.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, through whom we acknowledge God’s gifts, and we repent of our sin in misusing these gifts to idolatrous ends.
We affirm the natural world as God’s handiwork and dedicate ourselves to its preservation, enhancement, and faithful use by humankind.
We joyfully receive for ourselves and others the blessings of community, sexuality, marriage, and the family.
We commit ourselves to the rights of men, women, children, youth, young adults, the aging, and people with disabilities; to improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and dignity of all persons.
We believe in the right and duty of persons to work for the glory of God and the good of themselves and others and in the protection of their welfare in so doing; in the rights to property as a trust from God, collective bargaining, and responsible consumption; and in the elimination of economic and social distress.
We dedicate ourselves to peace throughout the world, to the rule of justice and law among nations, and to individual freedom for all people of the world.
We believe in the present and final triumph of God’s Word in human affairs and gladly accept our commission to manifest the life of the gospel in the world. Amen.
(From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2008. Copyright 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.)
As United Methodists, we are called to
• open our hearts to love and care for all people;
• open our minds to learn all we can about God’s love and explore new ideas, fresh perspectives, and thoughtful dialogue; and
• open our doors so that we may both welcome the stranger and go out to love and serve the world.
We are a worldwide church. You can find a United Methodist church, mission, school, hospital, or clinic in villages, hamlets, towns, and cities around the world. More important, you can find United Methodists around the globe (more than 11 million of us) working, serving, and loving in the name of the risen Christ.
We are moving toward perfection.
Will you find all of these wonderful aspects of United Methodism actively at work in every local congregation? No, we are not perfect. What you will find is that we, following the teachings of John Wesley, believe that we are called to live in ways that move us toward perfection. We work together and pray together and study together and worship together so that we can go out into the world with the love of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit to love and serve in the name of the risen Christ—to transform the world.