Suggestions for Presiding at the Eucharist
For nearly 30 years United Methodists have affirmed the importance of the Eucharist by pairing the Word and the Table together in their normative pattern for worship: The Word and Table services as found in the Hymnal and the Book of Worship. Hence, the blessed sacrament demands attention on the part of the presiding minister; it calls for careful preparation and a serious appreciation for its proper administration. This is true for all those who preside at the Table, not just those who minister in the United Methodist tradition. All clergy should take care to ensure that the sacrament is never cavalierly administered and that its meaning and place within the spiritual life of all believers is clearly proclaimed.
"Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves."
Addressing these issues is the purpose for the suggestions and principles offered here. We'll begin with a list of the "Do's and Don'ts," followed by a few words of commentary. On other pages we'll examine my own celebration style, and we'll also look at alternatives and suggestions for presiding in non-traditional settings.
Keep in mind that these are general suggestions; they should be helpful in the development of any meaningful celebration style. Specifics will come later.
- Be intentional in every written or spoken word.
- Be consistent and deliberate in all actions (hand-motions, bows, nods, etc).
- Be open to expanding your style of presiding beyond that to which you are accustomed.
- Be familiar with the words of the liturgy being used.
- Be open to adapting the liturgy to the themes of the liturgical season or of the day.
- Be comfortable with your denomination's theology of the Eucharist.
- Be comfortable with your own theology of the Eucharist.
- Be comfortable with your role as the presiding minister.
- Give consideration to adopting the sign of the cross for use in the liturgy.
- Make your celebration authentically your own.
- Don't be sloppy with any aspect of the celebration.
- Don't be hasty in speech or action.
- Don't depart from the liturgy being used.
- Don't be overly complex or elaborate.
- Don't ignore the past-experience of your congregation.
- Don't be afraid of innovation within limits.
- Don't be overly emotional when presiding.
And, finally, I want to say something more about making the sign of the cross. Many believe that this is exclusively a Roman Catholic practice, however making the sign of the cross has been common among Episcopalians for many years, and is becoming more and more common among many Methodists. If you're considering adopting the sign of the cross in your own eucharistic celebration, but are concerned about its appropriateness in a Methodist service, begin by making the sign only over the elements during the prayer of consecration. You may also want to sign the congregation immediately following the elements, thus symbolizing a connection between the two. The argument in favor of this practice is that we are "remembering his death" in this sacramental meal, and the sign of the cross is a visible and physical indicator of the means of his death. After you are comfortable making the sign of the cross in this context, you may find it more comfortable to make the sign at other points in the service — as in at any time one is offering a prayer of benediction or absolution and applying the Trinitarian formula: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
With these two points of advice, we will next turn to Tutorial for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist.