A MESSAGE FROM THE REV. J.C. AUSTIN: IN PERSON COMMUNION PROTOCOLS
We sometimes overlook how important language and narrative is in shaping our outlook, expectations, and understandings in the world. The language we use, and the way that we use it, can have an extraordinary impact on how we and others interpret what we see and how we see it in almost anything.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu used to joke about how the press in South Africa always found the worst ways to describe whatever he did in his nonviolent campaign to end apartheid there. “If the Lord gave me the power to walk on water,” he would say, “the media would report it as, ‘Tutu can’t swim!’”
Because of that power, we have avoided using language of going “back” or returning to “normal” when talking about reopening the church buildings and resuming an in-person option for worship on Sunday mornings. Partly, that’s because however innocuous that language might seem, it implies that 1) we are returning to exactly the way things were before the pandemic; 2) we can return to exactly the way things were before the pandemic; and 3) that we should return to exactly the way things were before the pandemic.
I want to suggest that none of those things are fully true. While there are many things that we are able to do as we did before the pandemic, there are many things that we are not doing the same way. For example, in Sunday morning worship right now, the services mostly feel like they have. But we are still wearing masks right now, even if we are vaccinated, because we want to uphold our core value of being “Welcoming to All,” and since children under 12 years old cannot be vaccinated yet, we need to do this to create a reasonably safe environment for them in worship.
Similarly, while we are no longer physically distancing, we are encouraging people to limit their physical contact in worship when greeting one another or during the passing of the peace, because there is a wide range of comfort levels among people about that, and again, we want to be a community that is welcoming to all.
This Sunday, we will be holding our first in-person Communion Service since March 1, 2020. And we will be doing things a bit differently than we did before the pandemic. After considerable thought and discussion, the Worship Committee has approved the following process for serving Communion in-person right now.
First, the pastors officiating the service will sanitize their hands immediately before blessing and/or touching the elements; communion servers will do this as well. You will still come forward to receive Communion, still wearing your mask, but the sanitized servers will drop a piece of bread in your hands rather than offering you the bread to take from.
You will keep the bread in your hand as you then receive a pre-packaged juice cup from another server, and then take both back to your seat, where you will briefly remove your mask to consume both, and then replace it again. If you are uncomfortable receiving the fresh bread even with these precautions, there is a communion wafer provided in the pre-packaged cup that you can use instead.
At the start of the pandemic, we learned that we could celebrate Communion remotely in ways that were powerful and sacred. Now we can rejoice in being together in body during Communion as well as Spirit! So, as we gather on Sunday, we can celebrate the gift of being united in Christ’s presence and at Christ’s table, and look forward to the future into which God is calling us together.
Grace and Peace,