Ask the UMC: Can a layperson celebrate communion privately at home?

Communion is not an individual, private sacrament, rather it is celebrated by the whole gathered congregation. Photo by Diane Degnan, United Methodist Communications
Communion is not an individual, private sacrament, rather it is celebrated by the whole gathered congregation. Photo by Diane Degnan, United Methodist Communications

Can a layperson celebrate communion privately at home or is Holy Communion only valid when an ordained minister does it?

In The United Methodist Church, only pastors are authorized to consecrate the elements and preside at the celebration of communion. Laypeople can assist the pastor.

Communion is not an individual, private sacrament, rather it is celebrated by the whole gathered congregation (This Holy Mystery).

Mark W. Stamm, in his book "Sacraments and Discipleship: Understanding Baptism and the Lord's Supper in a United Methodist Context," explains,

"The pastor's role is essential to a proper understanding of breaking bread together. Indeed, in The United Methodist Church, members may not celebrate the Lord's Supper without the presence of a properly credentialed pastor ...

"Did you know, however, that this principle works the other way as well? Just as congregations may not observe the sacrament without their pastor, so pastors should not observe the Lord's Supper without the presence of a congregation, even if that congregation is only one or two other people. … A pastor should not simply go into his or her study and consecrate a stack of elements to send along on the youth retreat, or worse to send to a church without the pastor. ...

"Why maintain such a tradition? Is it merely a way to preserve clerical power? Why not let anybody preside at the Lord's Table, whenever and wherever the Spirit moves them? In response to these questions, I remind you … about the self-centered Lord's Supper practiced in ancient Corinth. As you will recall, some were going ahead with a lavish meal, even to the point of drunkenness, while others were sneaking in at the last minute and receiving very little if anything (1 Corinthians 11:21-22). Paul bid them correct their problem by following this simple rule: 'So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another' (1 Corinthians 11:33).

“The rule requiring the pastor (or designated leader) to preside at the Lord's Table is an ancient discipline with a wise end in mind: It requires the church to 'wait for one another'; that is, it requires the church to gather for Eucharist. Many spiritual disciplines retain their integrity when practiced by individuals and by independently organized small groups, but not the Eucharist. By its very nature the Lord's Supper must be a corporate experience. ... Celebration of the Eucharist requires a pastor and a congregation."

Have questions? Ask the UMC. And check out other recent Q&As.

This content was produced by InfoServ, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.

First published May 16, 2017.

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