How do you celebrate the Eucharist?
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  • Do you stand behind the pulpit and woodenly read the liturgy?
  • If you stand behind the table, do you know what to do with your hands as you preside?
  • Do you stumble through the liturgy, as if you have never even read it before?
  • Is your presidential style sloppy, lazy, or unintentional?
  • Are you uncomfortable with the language of the liturgy, and think that it doesn't apply to people where they are, today?
  • Do you even like presiding at the table, or does it feel as if it were a meaningless ritual?
Based upon my observations and conversations with pastors and laity across my denomination, most United Methodist clergy would sadly have to identify with at least three or more of the above statements. Laity tell me that many of their pastors appear to not know how to preside at the table, are uncomfortable doing so, and that even when they try to give it some sense of style and dignity their efforts usually fall flat or appear "confused," "unplanned," and "unnatural." Similarly, many clergy tell me that they are unsure regarding what to do, where, and why. This should not be surprising given that large numbers of us have had only the barest minimum of practical training in sacramental celebration — either through a Conference Course of Study Program or in Seminary — and, as a result, feel quite unprepared to preside at the Table of the Lord. Many clergy are vague as to the meaning of the various parts of the Great Thanksgiving, nervous about "appearing too catholic" or "out of place" when presiding, and would rather rush through the liturgy in order to "get it over with." Others have sadly set aside the entire liturgy in favor of some kind of unstructured, non-liturgical, extemporaneous presentation that attempts to be "contemporary" while accomplishing nothing. And, worse still, are those who have decided to jettison the celebration of the sacrament altogether in the mistaken belief that it's a dead relic of primitive tradition which the modern world could do better without.
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The good news is that most of the clergy with whom I have spoken tell me that they would appreciate some helpful guidelines for celebrating Holy Communion. Over the past decade, as I have taught This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion in many different settings across the denomination, I have enjoyed conversations with both clergy and laity about the "nuts and bolts" of how to develop a clean, efficient, meaningful style of presiding at the Table while fostering a greater appreciation of the sacrament within the congregation. Unsurprisingly, these two objectives go hand-in-hand: the more that clergy pay attention to and, yes, reverence what they're doing at the Table, the more the congregation appreciates the sacrament as part of their spiritual life. As a result, there has been a growing interest in the practical aspects of celebration, as well as our Theology of the Eucharist. Thankfully, there are many resources that can help one to develop an authentic, pleasing, spiritually meaningful style for presiding at the Table. For instance, four excellent resources for worship-leadership style are:
From these books, along with what I learned from worship classes in Seminary, through my participation in the Order of Saint Luke, and in worship with the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, I developed a sacramental style which I believe to be pleasing, meaningful, and authentic to my spirituality and to our United Methodist understanding of the Eucharist. In this section I will present some principles and guidelines, based upon my style, as well suggestions to help my fellow clergy to form a celebration style that will be authentic and meaningful for them. In the future I will also add a commentary on how to adapt various elements of a liturgical style of celebration to a non-liturigical or "Contemporary Worship" form of service.