Can I administer sacraments?
Ask a Pastor
“As a lay person, can I serve communion to someone on my own, or baptize someone?” – Bradley S., Brooklyn, N.Y.
Brian: Our understanding of church is rooted in community. Since the sacraments are properly exercised in community, our confessions reserve the right of presiding at them to ordained people – not because there’s power in their title or magic in their fingers, but because as those who are ordained (recognized, prepared and called) by the community, they represent the whole church, the communion of saints, to the congregation gathered to celebrate the sacraments. So while we often send non-ordained people from the communion table to the homes of those unable to attend to distribute communion to them, a non-ordained person is usually not “authorized” to preside at communion. On the other hand, baptism has historically been understood as essential to salvation, meaning that tradition has recognized the right of any Christian to baptize someone in an emergency – though in typical circumstances, and for the same reasons as those relating to communion, only the ordained baptize.
This is one of the most often misunderstood elements of “reserving” the sacraments to clergy – it’s not about hierarchy, but about persistently emphasizing that the whole church is present in the sacramental acts.
Rosanne: Lutherans have always insisted for the sake of good order that the sacraments – Eucharist and Baptism – are a function of the ordained clergy. Many congregations have lay ministers who bring communion to shut-ins or those hospitalized following the Sunday service. But the bread and wine have been consecrated by the pastor during the service on that Sunday morning. In very special circumstances, it is possible for a lay person to baptize, but this is not the usual practice.
You can find lots of helpful information at ELCA Worship’s Frequently Asked Questions page at ELCA.org.
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