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Office of Theology and Worship offers supplemental guidance for online communion


Included are guidelines for holding online services during Holy Week and Easter 2020

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

The Office of Theology & Worship is offering Presbyterians supplemental guidance for online communion. (Photo illustration by Tammy Warren)

LOUISVILLE — Now that the Office of the General Assembly has issued a new advisory opinion from the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), saying that churches can hold online or virtual communion during an emergency/pandemic,  the church’s Office of Theology and Worship has released the statement, “Celebrating the Sacraments in a Time of Emergency/Pandemic.”

Acknowledging that the COVID-19 pandemic “has disrupted the basic patterns of life of the body of Christ” and “presented challenges not anticipated in our confessions or polity,” the statement affirms “that the resources or our tradition can help us make faithful decisions in light of the rapidly changing events and new contexts for ministry.”

For congregations seeking to “discern faithful forms of worship and service,” the statement identifies certain critical theological considerations that are important to keep in mind. It also upholds the variety of ways Presbyterian congregations and other denominational partners have sought to navigate the current challenges of our time.

Examples include:

  • Calling for a season of lament and fasting from the sacramental celebration
  • Seeking ways to “reaffirm our baptism” or “remember our communion” during this time apart
  • Exploring forms of service inspired by sacramental worship, such as organizing ministries of feeding as an outgrowth of our eucharistic formation
  • Making use of the church’s provisions for baptism apart from public worship and the extended serving of communion, in which the larger congregation is represented by one or more members
  • Experimenting with online celebrations of the sacraments, which the advisory opinion addresses.

The coordinator for the Office of Theology & Worship, the Rev. Dr. Barry Ensign-George, said the statement is meant as a supplement to the advisory opinion is designed to help congregations remember and reflect on the range of faithful ways of worshiping during this season of pandemic.

Shown here presiding at the communion table long before the current pandemic are Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri and the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, co-moderators of the 223rd General Assembly. (Photo by Rich Copley)

“The permission to observe online communion does not require doing so,” he said.

Because pastoral leaders will reach different conclusions about what is right for the congregation(s) they serve, Ensign-George said that this season calls for Presbyterians “to exercise forbearance toward one another as pastoral leaders discern the leading of the Holy Spirit as they shape worship.”

As a further way of assisting the Church during this time, the Office of Theology & Worship has also developed guidelines for Online Services for Holy Week and Easter 2020.  An ecumenical resource on Home Worship for the Three Days (Maundy Thursday on April 9, Good Friday on April 10 and the Vigil of Easter on April 11) is also available.

Click here to review the full “Advisory Opinion on Communion in an Emergency/Pandemic” from the Office of General Assembly.

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