Dear Siblings in Christ,
Because Holy Communion is so important to us as people of faith, and because the pandemic of COVID-19 has caused many communities to explore new methods of worship, the South Dakota Synod has been having discussions about how to faithfully celebrate the Eucharist during a pandemic. A Worship Task Force was created with diverse views, and this document comes from their discussions. A wide range of practices for Holy Communion existed before this pandemic, and utilizing technology now inserts another wrinkle into the complex fabric that is the Body of Christ, lived out in diverse communities of faith.
Given the variety of technologies churches use to communicate and worship with their parishioners, it is unsurprising to see many local variations in Eucharistic practice as churches adapt to their circumstances; their comfort with technology; their local customs for worship; the needs of their parishioners; and other factors.
In this document, we have given it our “reverent best guess”, as Prof. Tim Wengert says, to chart some of the variations in the Eucharistic celebration. This is not a comprehensive list, but it gives us the range of options used by practicing Christians. By carefully and prayerfully considering these options for your community, you may “extend the table” as we share God’s gifts of grace through Holy Communion and at the same time “expand participation.” You are urged to consider “what is the graceful thing to do,” instead of what may be “right” versus “wrong.” The task force views this list serving a twofold purpose. First, to identify the range of options Christians are using; second, to indicate which of these practices we could commend to our fellow Lutheran churches.
In closing, I invite you to watch the following YouTube video (https://youtu.be/jHut40Sc67w) by Rev. Dr. Jeff Whillock, Lead Pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Aberdeen, SD. It is an insightful piece about the imagery and theology of the half communion rail that we find in so many churches in South Dakota. This short, but well-told story would be a wonderful conversation starter for your ministry site as you engage in the process of “holy wrestling” with how you can and will gather as the people of God for Christ’s holy meal. Please, remember that the practices outlined and introduced are not a complete list of best practices, but an array of options that can be altered and expanded as God’s Spirit guides us into the future. The task force trusts that the Holy Spirit will guide and lead your grace-filled conversations on how all may be fed with the food of life. Feel free to contact any of the task force members if you have questions or concerns surrounding the outlined practices or if you have thoughts about other possibilities. We are looking forward to the ongoing conversation.
Finally, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to all task force members who so diligently and faithfully have given of their time, pastoral heart, and theological wisdom. I am humbled and honored to be called to serve among them and the congregations of the South Dakota Synod.
Grace, peace and divine wisdom be yours,
Rev. Constanze Hagmaier
Bishop of the South Dakota Synod