22 March 2010

Elders, mine are the elected variety not the ordained type, what should they be allowed to do?

I like many of you brothers have a board of Elders. They are men from the congregation with no special training or even aptitude for any of the various functions of the pastoral office. Yet, from somewhere in the past, this board was formed to assist the pastor. Among their functions according to the Constitution and bylaws of the congregation they are to pray for the pastor, ensure his family is cared for and that he has appropriate time off. Additionally they are to determine along with the pastor the worship practice of the congregation, approve worship resources. They were, by the time I arrived, assisting with the distribution of the elements in the Holy Communion.

The previous pastor had them distribute the host and the individual cups and he would distribute the Blood of Christ. I changed that to my distribution of the Host as only the pastor can admit to the Holy Supper and with the Host coming first, it seemed logical for the pastor to go first.

I have had a field worker now vicar for the past 4 years and I have had him distribute the Chalice and I have been down to one elder from previously having two, (one for the chalice, one for the individual cups). At the mid-week services I have not had an Elder serve as the vicar and I do it all. I first bring the host, then I bring the Chalice and the vicar follows with the individual cups. (no complaints on time here as there are many fewer in attendance so the service does not go "too long".)

Although I am not one concerned with the length of the service, (Divine service every Sunday is about 1 hr and 10-15 minutes) I know that when the vicar leaves, I would like to continue to bring the host and the chalice and only have an Elder bring the individual cups, (ideally we would do away the individual cups or I would bring them as well but I do not live in the ideal world).

How do you do what you do? Have any of you had my situation and gotten away from it and if so how did you do it? Have you been able to get rid of the individual cups and how? Do you have your elders at least wear some sort of robe for their part when they enter the chancel? Looking for some historic and practical help here. Thanks brothers.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Here an Elder assists in Communion (I distribute our Lord's Body, he offers the individual cup, then I the common) while robed in an alb. The Elders also oversee the ushers, identify visitors (in particularly those who may not be of our confession). Also, our congregation is divided amongst the Elders, and they have the duty to pray for those on their list and also to visit them when sick. They also have the same tasks which you listed above.

George and Colleen said...

As far as communion goes, we have elders help with the distribution, usually of the individual cups. Most of the elders don't even want to handle the common cup. Unfortunately, so few people use the common cup that it takes no time for me to follow with it. Anyhow, I distribute the host and the common cup. An elder distributes the individual cups.

I don't know that aptitude for pastoral ministry is the issue in distributing the body and blood of Christ, so much as the call to do so. Not that I think the elders have a "divine call" but at least there's a well-defined office that they're in -- and they don't do it themselves, ever. Properly speaking they assist.

James T. B said...

I distribute the body, the assisting elder follows with the individual cups, then I follow with the common cup.

In spite of all the facts, there are a significant number of members who believe that the common cup can pass diseases from one communicant to the other. It will be a long time before these people will allow me to stop offering the individual cups.

As to attire and even dress code, almost anything goes. I am not sure that all of my elders even own a suit and tie. Albs for the elders cost money.

Given the state of catechesis in the past few decades, rejoice that these are your biggest problems.

Anonymous said...

We added a mid-week communion service. I thought I would spare the Altar Guild a great deal of trouble by using only the chalice. Eventually they insisted on including the individual cups, and I realized that I had been inadvertently keeping some members away from communing mid-week by this practice. Indiv. cups will be with us for at least another 100 years, if the Lord should tarry. I myself have put eliminating them on my list of things to do within the next 150 years.

Chad Myers said...

RE: "in spite of all the facts" (about the communion cup spreading communicable diseases)

Which facts are those? I ask honestly not sarcastically.

While it's an alcohol environment and thus hostile to germs, it's still possible to pass disease. Lutherans believe that there is at least some wine still present and Catholics believe that the properties of wine remains. In any case, the cup will contain the Blood and wine and any other foreign material that was present in the wine or the cup before consecration.

Does anyone believe that consecration removes all foreign objects and sterilizes the cup environment? I have not heard of this before.

I'm no fan of individual cups, but in the case of a possible pandemic or serious contagious infectious disease spreading rapidly, prudence seems to dictate that the cup be withheld. I'm not sure which is worse: Withholding the cup altogether or fostering individual "communion" by using the individual cups. I'm inclined to believe that withholding the cup is the less problematic solution.

Quick question: We Catholics believe that Christ is Really Present, fully (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity) in every crumb of Host and every drop of Blood so it is OK to receive just the Host in these circumstances. What do Lutherans preach/teach on this subject?

George and Colleen said...

well, Chad, there have been scientific studies which demonstrate that congregations using the common cup have no higher incidence of disease than the surrounding population (I think I have the correct statement of the studies' results).

Other considerations beside the alcoholic environment are that metal, especially inert metals like gold or silver do not harbor bacteria or viruses very much (compared to wood, for example).

Studies do show that there _are_ bacteria/viruses on the cup which can be transmitted. However, there are also bacteria/viruses in the air, on doorknobs, on people's hands when you "pass the peace" (which I know all y'all Vatican 2-ers like).

Anyhow, it's basically germophobia which gives people qualms about the common cup. But that's what our society teaches us, so what can you do?

As a side note, I would like to see a comparison of how much bacteria/viruses are on an individual cup which has been handled by the altar guild and the pastor, not to mention the person's own hands as they often handle them by the rim, in comparison to a properly "purificated" common cup.

Anyhow, I don't know why there isn't more discussion about the role of lay elders in distributing the body and blood of our Lord.

Pastor Peters said...

I distribute the host and the assisting minister (1/3 ordained when available and 2/3 time lay) distributes the individual cups and an elder (or 1/3 time ordained) follows with the chalice... since we have 45% chalice and 55% indi cups, it is a great help and I trained them and the people were patient... it is not perfect but it works when you have two masses each Sunday and 225 communicants...

Chad Myers said...

@George and Colleen:

Ah, thank you. I agree with your germaphobia charge. I thought someone might be making an argument that there is some supernatural protection because it is the Blood of Christ and has special miraculous powers at all times. This may be the case sometimes, but I do not think it is always so.

Pastor Foy said...

Interesting comments. Is it possible that at the moment that God is giving us Life Himself that He will also give us some disease or even death?

Common cups came in from the protestants after Mr. Welch pasturized grape juice. It was their concern for the spreading of disease in their memorial meal as they did not and do not have the Holy Supper of our Lord for they do not believe in the real presence nor do they presume to receive Christ bodily. The Lutherans and the Catholics allowed this to come into their churches.

There have been plagues and disease throughout the time of the Church and Holy Communion. Yet, the Chalice was always given at least between the priests who also suffered and died otherwise from these diseases. Is there any case that shows that such diseases were spread by the use of the Chalice?

Also, as to reducing and working towards the elimination of the common cups, several years ago I changed the order of distribution to Chalice before Individual cups. Many more now take from the chalice. Before we would use nearly two trays of individual cups, and in the past 5 years we have only used on full tray one time and the norm is now less than 30 cups. Besides, the chalice is how it was instituted and it deserves precedence.

I learned that many hated to wave off the individual cups for they thought it rude and thus that is why they took it for it came first. The change bothered the hardcore individual cup users and their comment was "I feel guilty saying no to the chalice" to which I responded "then take it" and "that is how those who wanted it felt for years, I am sorry but this is the proper order of things."

The last question or point is that the laity is just that "the laity" and the Lord draws them by His Spirit into His Church to serve them, to feed them, to bath them in His grace and mercy. At the crescendo of the Divine Service, the Holy Supper, we take a few from being served, filled, and fed and call upon them to serve in a role into which they have not been called by God. I believe we put an undue burden upon them even if they do not recognize this to be the case and most of my elders do recognize this.

What say you to all of this?

mozart said...

For what it's worth, I've been told individual cups came into vogue in the 1800s from people who did not want there lips touching the common cup used by those of other races. God help us.

jeff-mn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jeff-mn said...

If time is an issue, why not drop the silly blessings-of-the-children at the altar thing? That way you can distribute both the Body and the Blood of our Lord.