18 August 2010

Distribution, time, personnel, vestments

Here's another question/problem/dilemma.

We have at my congregation these men called "elders" who are laymen and not elders in the Biblical sense of the word. Of course they do various things and one of their functions before I got here was that of assisting in the distribution of the Holy Supper. When I arrived one elder would distribute the host, the pastor would distribute the chalice and the other elder would distribute the individual cups.

I changed that order to be, Pastor distributed the host for he alone can welcome/admit someone to the table and he alone is accountable to God for such admission. Then the elders distributed the Blood by either chalice or individual cups. As of this summer I have gone to distributing both the host and the chalice and one elder has then distributed the individual cups.

There has been a comment made that this takes to long and some members are leaving after receiving the holy supper and remaining for the balance of the service and the Lord's benediction (one of my member's pointed out that that was like giving the finger to God).

I have also gotten to the point where I believe that those who serve within the chancel should be vested i.e. the elders, the acolytes and of course the pastor who is already vested. Concerns have been voiced that "vesting" the elders in something other than coat and tie makes them appear as clergy or as our vicar and that might cause further confusion about the office. I have seen it done by faithful brothers both ways but would like to have some further input.

Of course to be able to do things as the historic church always did and as those brothers who have regular clergy in attendance and don't have laymen as elders would be wonderful. Looking for some discussion and helpful critique on this matter. Thanks in advance.


Pr. H. R. said...

That tension between wanting to vest the "elders" because they are helping administer the Sacrament and yet not wanting to vest them because, well, they are not clergy goes to the heart of the modern LCMS confusion over AC XIV. It says that only clergy administer the Sacrament. That's what we did until the mid 20th century.

Walther never had a layman assist with the administration of the Sacrament. Nor Luther.

And what was the reason we changed this 2000 year tradition? Time. People said that the communion took too long. I could be really angry at the pastors who let this happen if I wasn't so keenly aware of my own failings and cowardly moments!

I encountered the same practice when I came to this parish. The first thing I did was go through the rubrics and what our confessions say about the Sacrament and the ministry with the elders. Then I proposed the following. The pastor will take the Host, for the reasons you mentioned above, then the pastor will come back with the chalice and the lay-elder will follow him carrying the tray. The pastor will say, "Take drink, etc." no matter whether the communicant takes the chalice or the bitty cups.

We did this for a while and it seemed to work well. One Sunday the lay-elder on duty was absent and another lay-elder asked if should help out. I said, nah, I think I can handle it. When they say that it didn't really make the service that much longer, they just quite doing it and were thankful to be done with it. Many said they were never comfortable with it anyway.

So that's what worked here.

On those occasions when I have a vicar or seminarian, I have him do what the lay-elders did: carry the tray for me. This actually seems quite appropriate for someone who is not quite an ordained deacon. . .


Josh Schroeder said...

I don't own the book yet, but I recall reading Dr. Piepkorn saying that laymen in the chancel ought to at least wear an amice. Seems to me an amice by itself looks odd. But an alb or surplice is proper for any Christian to wear.

This is important: the baptismal gown, the alb / surplice, and the funeral pall are all essentially the same thing; "cut from the same cloth" you might say. These are appropriate and proper for all baptized Christians to wear. The vestment that sets clergy apart from the laity is the stole.

Proper vestments ought not cause confusion as to who the pastor is. When it does, this is a pastor's teaching opportunity / obligation of ongoing catechesis.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Right there with you Bill. Had the same conversations a couple of months ago. Did the exact same thing as you when coming to my new place. I'm okay with using at least one lay assistant. It's not ideal, but just so long as everyone understands that he is assisting in a pastoral function, for the sake of convenience.

We tried using two elders (one with the tray, one with the chalice), but they didn't want to commit to that often. I found that my elders actually were the ones who thought that it was a silly thing to worry about how long the service took. they're more pious than I am :)

Father Hollywood said...

To quote one of my former classmates: "What we need in the LCMS are male deaconesses." ;-)

Pastor Peters said...

Personally I do not think there is much confusion when the elder assisting me is vested in an alb. I am there next to him in full eucharistic vestments. His role is limited, directly under my supervision, and he does not act alone. Nobody in our parish or visiting has ever thought this elder was a Pastor or a wannabe. We also have an Assistant Pastor who assists in the distribution. In our case it does take much longer -- and while this is not a primary consideration, it is a consideration since we have two services and we do not cut the liturgy down to shorten the service. We have a weekly Eucharist at both services.

Remember Heath that until the mid-20th century most parishes of the LCMS had the sacrament quarterly and those who were not communing left after the offering. So the comparison is not exactly the same.

The best choice? Ordain and consecrate male deacons with parish and liturgical responsibility to solve this and other issues. Will it happen? Probably not because Missouri is so wrapped up in the idea of creating offices and nomenclature that has little reference to Scripture and tradition. Baring that, we have a functional diaconate because of training and responsibility assigned to these men we call elders but for all practical purposes mean deacons (at least when you look at function)...

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

"This actually seems quite appropriate for someone who is not quite an ordained deacon"

Fr. Curtis:
"Not quite an ordained deacon" means that they are forbideen by our Confession to administer the Sacrament, even when the Sacrament is held in those awful tiny cups.