I became aware in the last few days about a misunderstanding related to the blessing of the bread and the wine and juice, which is also called the consecration of the elements. On June 3 the deacons set up the communion table, and then removed the elements when there was concern that there was no pastor to preside, as I was on vacation. Please bear with me as I explain the role of the deacons before I get back to what happened on June 3.
The deacons are called and authorized by the congregation to be the spiritual leaders of the church. You, as members of the congregation, covenant (make a promise) with these deacons to honor their leadership at the time of their installation in the beginning of each year, following their election at the Annual Meeting.
In the United Church of Christ the leadership of worship is a shared responsibility between the pastor and deacons. The United Church of Christ remembers its Biblical and church heritage. In the early church (first four centuries), it was common for lay people to preach and lead worship. Lay people blessed and served the communion.
In the 4th century when the church became an official arm of the state, worship was led by one clergyman acting alone. This created a distance between clergy and laypeople. The Protestant Reformation restored the active role of the whole congregation. Gradually in the last four centuries there has been a return to lay involvement in the planning and leading of worship.
In the United Church of Christ each local church is free to order its own worship life. With freedom comes responsibility. There is great care taken for the orderly execution of worship and communion by the pastor and deacons.
At Church on the Hill, we are part of the Puritan and Congregational heritage that comes out of the Protestant Reformation. As such we support the pastor and deacons in the design and execution of worship (see Article VI, section 2 of our By-Laws) with the understanding that the design of worship is consistent with the gospel.
Although the pastor traditionally has primary responsibility to preach, teach, and administer sacraments, deacons also have that responsibility. This reflects the Protestant Reformation understanding of the “priesthood of all believers”, the right of every believer to preach and teach the Christian faith. Our bylaws reflect this congregational right. That means the Diaconate can authorize a lay person to preach or preside over Communion (blessing the elements and serving Communion). As primary teacher, my role includes training and preparing the deacons in their exercise of worship leadership, including communion.
Getting back to June 3, I recognize in hindsight that the deacons and the congregation were not adequately prepared by me for the deacons to preside over communion without a pastor present. For that I take full responsibility. My intention is that there is dynamic participation by everyone in all aspects of the church’s life. We gather to praise God and love God and bring that love to one another. We take an active part in worship of God so that all may catch the Spirit. That also means that everyone understands and feels at home and welcomed in the worship space. Adequate education and dialogue are necessary so that all may indeed feel welcomed. I, along with the deacons, are currently planning such educational opportunities for the fall.
Let us trust the working of the Holy Spirit in both pastoral and lay involvement in the Church on the Hill. Sometimes we will err in our responsibilities. Yet we have a faith-filled and loving congregation that helps us get back on track, and we continue to be guided by the Holy Spirit. The liturgy (order of worship) is the work of every Christian and every church.
If you have any thoughts or questions, please contact me or Head Deacon, Zoë Jilleen, so that we may discern further. We are all part of the body of Christ, the living, breathing community of faith. I look forward to the continued spiritual growth of our congregation.
In Christ’s love,
June 14, 2012