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Stump the Pastor: Can a Lay Person Preside Over the Sacrament of the Holy Communion?
The Sacraments are religious ceremonies or acts of the Christian Church that are regarded as an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual divine grace and presence. Sacraments center the followers of Jesus and focus us on the presence of the Holy all around us, ushering and strengthening our relationship with God. In the Methodist church we celebrate two sacraments: Baptism and the Holy Communion.
Jesus himself established these sacraments. The Baptism was established when Jesus himself was baptized. The Sacrament of the Holy Communion was established during the Last Supper.
The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church states (Here is the link):
¶340.2 Responsibilities and Duties of Elders and Licensed Pastors
a) To administer the sacraments of baptism and the Supper of the Lord according to Christ’s ordinance.
(1) To prepare the parents and sponsors before baptizing infants or children, and instruct them concerning the significance of baptism and their responsibilities for the Christian training of the baptized child.
(2) To encourage reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant and renewal of baptismal vows at different stages of life.
(3) To encourage people baptized in infancy or early childhood to make their profession of faith, after instruction, so that they might become professing members of the church.
(4) To explain the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and to encourage regular participation as a means of grace to grow in faith and holiness.
(5) To select and train deacons and lay members to serve the consecrated communion elements.
b) To encourage the private and congregational use of the other means of grace.
It is responsibility of the Ordained Elder or Licensed Pastor under appointment in the local church:
“To administer the sacraments of baptism and the Supper of the Lord according to Christ’s ordinance.”
“To explain the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and to encourage regular participation as a means of grace to grow in faith and holiness,” and
“Select and train deacons and lay members to serve the consecrated communion elements.”
There are no provisions in the Book of Discipline allowing the Administration of the Sacrament by laity. Lay assistance in the distribution of the consecrated elements, under the direction and Administration of the Elder or appointed Licensed Pastor, is both authorized and encouraged, but laity may not preside. By publishing “This Holy Mystery” in 2004, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church made it clear that in the United Methodist Church presiding at Holy Communion is the duty and function of the Ordained Elder or appointed Licensed Pastor. Laity, while they certainly are encouraged to assist at the table in the distribution of the elements, and while they may even be authorized to carry the consecrated elements to shut-ins and those in hospitals and nursing homes, may not themselves preside at the table or administer the Sacrament in the absence or even the presence of a duly ordained or appointed individual [see page 31 of the booklet].
When we take vows of membership in the local United Methodist Church, one of the promises that we make is that as members of Christ’s Universal Church, we will “continue to serve God and be loyal to Jesus through the United Methodist Church, and do all in [our] power to strengthen its ministries.” The Book of Discipline is what guides us and unites us in how we organize ourselves as followers of Jesus so that we can serve God by serving the world in which we live, and “how we do church.” When we take vows of membership in a local United Methodist church, we agree to follow the common ground rules that all Methodist Churches in the world follow and to abide by a certain code of conduct.
That being understood, there are certain situations when members of the laity may want to share the Sacrament of the Holy Communion. It may happen during a Bible study or at a fellowship meal shared by a small group. Personally I encourage that; we should remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us as often as we can. In those situations, an elder can consecrate the elements that can be later shared in a small group without the elder present.