I am serving my first church as solo pastor and have been here several years. There is not a tradition of serving communion to homebound people in their homes here, and I'm not sure how to go about this or if it is important to introduce it. Other churches have deacons to fulfill this role, but we dont have those here, and so I'm kind of on my own.
I guess I'm uncertain about it, because in my previous setting as an associate, I took communion to people's homes sometimes and always found it a little awkward, both theologically and logisitically. Quite a few people just said "no" when I offered it, seeming to think it should happen at church or not at all.
If they said yes, I have a couple of those kits to take home communion in, but everything seems to be the wrong shape and size for the kind of bread we have, or to leak. And, the little plates and cuprs are so tippy and tiny, and I'm never sure where to put anything (there is often some kind of bedside table in these situations, but it's always covered with bottles or kleenex or something). Then, half the time the person is on a special diet, or has a hard time swallowing. Also, I guess I'm uncertain what exactly to say -- we are a rather "low" church but our communion liturgy is still pretty formal. I feel like the "communion at home" prayers and things I"ve read teeter between way too formal, and ridiculously informal.
Please be very specific. For example, when you're pouring the wine/juice out of the little plastic bottle into the little cup, do you say the words of institution then? Or do you get it all ready, and then present it? Do you just ease into it, sort of naturally as part of the conversation (I often pray this way), or do you set aside a time and offer it more ritualistically? If you are/have been homebound, would it have been meaningful to receive this sacrament and if so, how? When you take communion to homebound folks, what works? And, have you ever introduced the idea of communion in homes to a congregation that hasnt done it for a while -- or ever?
I find home communion to be one of the great privileges of ministry. My tradition requires that an elder or deacon accompany me, and we find it easy to recruit elders and deacons for this meaningful observance.
We make appointments in advance and certainly, some folks turn down the offer, but most accept, and it's always a really nice visit.
Here's how I handle the specifics: We visit for awhile, then I ask if it seems like time for communionl. I excuse myself to ready the elements while the elder/deacon continues the conversation with the person/people we're visiting. I typically say a short prayer that includes parts of the conversation we've been having. I then say the words of institution, and offer the elements. The elder/deacon offers a closing prayer.
I have introduced home communion with a church that had done little of it. It took time, but it was very well received. It's a very special opportunity for pastoral care and to extend the loving arms of the church. Perhaps it will feel that way to those with whom you serve!
I come from a tradition that not only offers home communion to the sick and homebound, but for whom it is expected. If one can’t come to church the church comes to them. We use ordained and trained lay folk (Lay Eucharistic Ministers) for this ministry. If I were serving a congregation for whom this ministry is a part of the life I’d begin with some teaching. I’d begin with the leadership team and share with them your experience of this ministry and why it is a powerful witness of the church in the world. I’d then invite a group of lay folk, from the leadership team and the general congregation, to learn about this ministry. After teaching the folks about it I’d invite a few people (if that would work in your tradition) to be trained as LEM’s (Lay Eucharistic Ministers). If using lay folk is too much too soon, then I’d focus the teaching on the importance of the ministry and do it myself for some time, and if it takes hold in the life of the congregation, then I’d invite some lay folk to participate, assuming that is allowed. I’d publish articles in the congregation newsletter and on the website. I’d preach about it and talk about it at every opportunity.
In terms of what I do: I’m very social when I make these visits. I spend a few minutes in friendly dialogue. (or as long as the person seems to desire – if they aren’t sick more time might be ok, if they are sick and in the hospital a short visit is important). Then I say, I brought communion from our Sunday morning (or weekday service), would you like to receive communion and a prayer for healing? I make it very simple. If I can’t spread out the bread and the wine on a table near the person I use a window ledge or a chair. Sometimes, depending on the condition of the person, I only offer a little piece of bread/wafer – which I bring in a special enclosed case called a pyx – these are like a little pill container, round with a hinged lid. They are nice because they fit in your pocket or purse.
When I intend to offer both bread and wine I use a kit, which can be made from small containers or purchased (not inexpensive) from places like Almy. These include a paten (plate), an enclosed cruet for the wine, a chalice, and sometimes tiny purificators (napkin) and corporal (placemat). Depending on the space available I lay it all out or not. At the very least I try to use the paten and the chalice. I used a simple service that includes an opening sentence: Blessed be the one holy and living God...(or something like that) and the person says, And blessed be God’s kingdom. Then I read a short phrase from scripture that describes God’s love and healing grace or hope. There are a few short prayer sentences for healing and then confession. After confession we say the Lord’s Prayer and then I offer communion. We conclude with either, a prayer for healing with a laying on of hands or a more simple prayer. You can find some options here: BCP ministry to the sick.
That said, I adapt all of this to tend to the condition and needs of the person. At a minimal I invite the person to pray with me the Lord’s Prayer and then offer communion and then offer a short prayer after.
I also create, one heavy paper/card stock, in large print, the entire service (from which I adapt) so that it can be easily used by anyone present.
That said, I have had people who find the idea of home communion to be uncomfortable. In these situations I just offer a prayer. Holy Eucharist is a gift, but it’s not required for God’s grace to fill their lives. Your presence and prayers can also be a sign of God’s love and grace. Blessings to you as you explore this powerful ministry and witness in the world.
Ruth, who blogs at Sunday's Coming, has this to say:
You are right to identify the ‘previous practice’ of churches as important here – also I think the ecumenical mix of the congregation can make a difference. Some people are just more comfortable with the idea of home communion than others. I have even had good church folk who have looked at me as if I was offering the the Last Rites (which we don’t really have in my denomination) when all I said was ‘would you like communion at home?’ - so I think your instinct to take care is a good one. However since you asked for some suggestions, here are mine.
1. I try to take an elder of the church (or good friend of the house-bound person) with me – I think this helps it feel more like ‘we are sharing together’ rather than ‘I am giving you something’.
2. I always ask in advance ‘would you like communion at home?’ and ‘would you like x to come with me?’ rather than springing it on people.
3. I chat for a little while on arriving – sometimes sharing some of what happened at church on Sunday (eg which reading, what celebrations...) to establish that we are still one family of God together, even if we can’t all be in the building at the same time (the church building or their home).
4. I say something like ‘I’ll just set everything up..’ - I find a suitable table, make a space if necessary (& remember to put it all back afterwards!) and I am always touched to feel that this little bedside table/hospital trolley/ stool has become the table of the Lord – I sometimes make a comment to this effect. Setting up includes pouring the wine into the cup, putting the bread/wafer out. Sometimes I use a very formal little silver ‘mini chalice & patten’ other times I use a simple pottery cup & plate (depends on person and how high/low they are).
5. I ask ‘shall we start?’ so that people are clear this is the ‘liturgy’.
6. Whether I use a formal set service or something more informal depends on the person, again. But I always have something in my hands so that it feels a bit ‘more’ than a snack together. My personal preference is for the Presbyterian Church of Scotland ‘Common Order’ Fifth Order for Holy Communion ‘for use at home or in hospital’ - I sometimes trim things down depending on how the person seems (tired, restless, etc). Sometimes I use one of the readings form the Sunday worship either just gone or to come & I say where we’ve used it, to reinforce the sense of communion with the rest of the congregation.
7. Depending on how the person is (again!) I might put bread/wafer in their hands & hand them a cup – or dip bread/wafer in wine for them and place it in their mouth, or hold the cup to their lips... I’m not afraid to ask them in advance ‘what’s going to be the best way of doing this?’. I take the elements last so that I can consume what’s left (but that’s because I’m getting ‘higher’ in older age!).
8. I say a firm blessing so that we know to transition between liturgy & back into ‘conversation’. I chat as I ‘pack things away’ and restore the table to ‘normal’. If I’m offered tea or coffee, I personally prefer it now, after the ‘service’ rather than before.
I hope some of that is useful.
Over the years I have been very touched by some people who would have a little table ready for me – complete with little vase of flowers, possibly a candle, even a little white table cloth – I love these signs that they have got ready for the coming of God into their home. Other times I have rejoived at Jesus’ presence in the midst of all the mess and clutter – among the pills, letters, and yogurt pots.
Be bold – and God bless you.
And Muthah+ offers this:
Taking Communion is always awkward because we are so used to it being in church. But I think of it as just one more way of bringing healing into an environment of ill-health. I would suggest you write a short service that seems right for you. Sometimes our prayerbooks or hymnals get in the way for what you want to highlight. Print it out in a size that can fit in you communion kit. I find the little plastic cups for hospital calling to be wise so that they can be thrown away following the service. This where “fish food”—pressed hosts for bread, any reason to call them bread. I have a pyx in my communion kit just the right size for hosts—but some of the smaller kits do not have them. Find a little box that will provide the right size. I refuse to buy an oil stock because they are so expensive. I have found that a pill dispenser with some cotton and blessed olive oil in it will provide the oil for healing that many find helpful.
If the family is present and they would find a celebration convenient, I will take a roll from the patient’s lunch tray and I carry small single serving bottles of wine and celebrate the whole Eucharistic service for them. If you are taking elements from your congregational service, make sure that those receiving them are reminded of the prayers of the faithful who sent you there.
When I first started in ministry I found that people refused the sacrament but I finally realized that many refused it because they had never received that way before. Talk to them about it and then move into it informally if they are willing. As you experience it more, you will be able to discern when to be formal and when to make it simple. That comes with practice. Most of all, let your people see the Christ in you as you minister to them at home or in hospital.
Thank you to our wonderful Matriarchs for such great responses! What about the rest of you? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section. And, as always, if you have a question you'd like the matriarchs to respond to, please email us at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.