ELCA Sacramental Practices Statement Goes Forward
11/18/1996 12:00:00 AM
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America reviewed "The Use of the Means of Grace: A Statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament" here Nov. 10. The council voted to recommend that the 1997 Churchwide Assembly adopt the document for "guidance and practice" in the ELCA.
The purpose of the statement, said the Rev. Wyvetta Bullock, ELCA executive director, Division for Congregational Ministries, is "to encourage common practice among the expressions of this church (congregations, synods, and churchwide) regarding the sacraments -- practice that is consistent with Lutheran theology."
The Lutheran church recognizes the Lord's Supper and Baptism as sacraments -- sacred acts instituted by Jesus Christ. There is a wide variety of practices in the ELCA surrounding the sacraments, such as the varying ages at which young people receive the Lord's Supper and the use of grape juice alongside wine.
The document's four major parts are The Proclamation of the Word, Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and the Means of Grace and the Christian Mission. Each part presents a series of principles accompanied by "background" and "application" guidance.
The statement seeks to encourage study and discussion of the sacraments in the congregations of this church and increased teaching about the sacraments by the bishops and pastors of this church, said Bullock.
The first draft of the sacramental practices statement, developed by the division's task force, drew about 850 written responses; it was mailed to 18,000 rostered leaders. The task force gave much of its attention to two topics: the age of admission to first communion and the Trinitarian language -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- used in Baptism.
The statement's section on Holy Communion, particularly issues around the communion of children, received more comments from the congregations of the ELCA than the other four sections. The practice of communing young children varies throughout the church. Mobility has been cited as a practical concern as congregations attempt to welcome as new members, children who may already be communing while children in the hosts congregation do not.
The statement says, "Out of mutual respect among congregations, children who are communing members of a congregation of this church who move to a congregation with a different practice should be received as communing members. ... They and their parents also should be respectful of the traditions and practices of their new congregation."
"The document offers the best compromise for families that are expected to honor the procedures and rules of another congregation," said Church Council member, William T. Billings of Detroit, Mich.
The use of substances other than bread and wine for Holy Communion also received much response from members of the ELCA. According to Nelson, many respondents seemed not to be aware of an earlier prohibition on, for example, grape juice.
The proposed principle says, "In accordance with the Words of Institution, this church uses bread and wine in the celebration of the Lord's Supper. Communicants normally receive both elements, bread and wine, in the Holy Communion."
The "application" adds, "For pressing reasons of health, individuals may commune under one element. In certain circumstances, congregations might decide to place ... non-alcoholic wine or grape juice on the altar."
A 1995 summary report on communion practices reports 57 percent of ELCA congregations offer grape juice, usually as an option alongside wine in the distribution of Holy Communion.
"If part of a congregation is receiving wine while the other is receiving an alternative, such as grape juice, it is okay," said Billings. "I am pleased with what the statement says," he said.
The Church Council voted to make one suggestion, that the Churchwide Assembly delete the word "Sunday" from the principle which says, "The public reading of the Holy Scriptures is an indispensable part of Sunday worship, constituting the basis for the public proclamation of the Gospel."
"Lutheran worship services are not just held on Sunday," said Cynthia P. Johnson, Baltimore, Md., Church Council member. "Worship services can be held throughout the week such as Wednesday Lenten services, Saturday contemporary services, and other mid-week services held throughout the liturgical year," said Johnson.
In his report to the Church Council, the Rev. H. George Anderson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, noted the lack of controversy on the draft of the sacramental practices statement. "I'm hoping it is because people are ready to act," he said.
"Is there among us the ability simply to live long-term with differences regarding the age of first communion, frequency of celebrating Holy Communion and other dimensions of our sacramental practices?" Anderson wondered.
"The document represents a good model of participation," he said. "Both the Conference of Bishops and the DCM board commended the task force and staff involved in developing the draft for their careful work and process of receiving responses from many viewers of previous drafts," said Anderson.
"The Use of the Means of Grace" must be adopted by the Churchwide Assembly to become an official statement of the ELCA.
For information contact: Ann Hafften, Dir., ELCA News Service, (312)
380-2958 or AHAFFTEN@ELCA.ORG; Frank Imhoff, Assoc. Dir., (312)
380-2955 or FRANKI@ELCA.ORG