¶711 COMMUNION SERVICES
The Lord’s Supper is the one thing Jesus told his followers to do in remembrance of him. It is a
central act of Christian worship and a chief means of grace (see ¶620). The Communion service must include, at a minimum, (1) confession of sin and request for forgiveness, (2) a retelling of the biblical story which we are called to remember through the sacrament, and (3) words of consecration/distribution.
In Communion we look in at ourselves and confess the things that have gone wrong. We look
back to Calvary and praise Jesus for his death for us. We look up to his risen presence, longing
to nourish us through the bread and cup which he said were his body and blood. We look around in love and fellowship with other guests at God’s table. We look forward to his return at the end of all history, the marriage supper of the Lamb, of which every Communion is a foretaste. And then we look out to a needy world; Communion is battle rations for Christian soldiers. [Adapted slightly from Michael Green, One to One (Moorings, 1995) p. 102]
The Articles of Religion set out our theological understanding of the Sacraments (¶123) and Holy Communion (¶125). This section is intended to clarify accepted practices in the administration of Communion as part of the worship of the church.
Who can participate?
For the Communion meal, we believe that we gather around the Lord’s Table and that it is “open” to all who would turn to Him in faith and newness of life. We do not “fence” the Table, that is, restrict participation to those who are members only, or even those who are (baptized) believers.
Because Christ is really present at the Table through the Holy Spirit, so too are all the pardoning and transforming benefits of Christ’s sacrifice. This means that Communion is a means of prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace – and therefore a converting as well as a confirming sacrament. A person can come to know God for the first time through the taking of the bread and the cup.
If a person carefully listens to the prayers and words of commitment leading up to receiving the elements and finds his/her heart saying “yes” to the repentance, faith, and strong desire for cleansing by Christ that is found in those prayers, then that person would be welcome to partake – even if they were not a believer prior to the Communion Service, or even baptized. (Here is one reason that the ritual/liturgy/prayers of the Communion service are important.)
Communion is a means of grace that can be used at the beginning of the Christian journey, even though we recognize that the full significance of the meal will be come to be known only as the believer develops in maturity.
Persons should be reminded of the counsel of 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 as reflected in the general
“Invitation” (“You who truly and earnestly repent of your sins …”). All who can, with a clear
conscience, respond to this invitation are welcome to participate. Where it is known to church leaders that a person has not responded to the communion invitation with integrity, pastoral counsel will be required. Such counsel may include a request not to participate until there is evidence of repentance.
What about Children?
Children are welcome at the Table provided they want to participate, are mature enough to do so in an appropriate manner, have or want to have a real relationship with Jesus, and understand the basic meaning of the meal.
Parents play a key role in preparing children for participation. Pastors and Sunday school
teachers should also take steps to ensure that children are instructed in the meaning of the
sacraments. Resources for this purpose are available on the website.
Who can administer?
The widespread tradition of the Church, including our own heritage in the Church of England and early Methodism, is that Communion should be administered (that is, the elements consecrated and distribution overseen) only by an ordained minister. The reason for this limitation is to provide the believing community with full assurance that this act is offered in a way thoroughly accountable to the apostolic witness and tradition.
The officiating minister may select lay assistants to help with the distribution of the elements.
We recognize that it may be valuable to celebrate Communion in a setting where an ordained minister is not present (for example, in small group ministry, visitation ministries). In any such situation, those leading should be prepared and aware of maintaining order and integrity of the table in accordance with the teaching of the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 11:23-33) and the practices advocated herein.
The traditional, widespread but not exclusive, practice of the early Methodists was to receive the bread and cup according to the custom adopted from the Church of England – that is, by
proceeding to the prayer rails before the communion table and there kneeling while the minister delivered the elements into their hands. Participants would come in groups, as many as would fill the rail together, and then depart as a group, demonstrating the community building and affirming aspect of the sacrament.
The means of distributing the Communion elements is left to the discretion of those administering the sacrament.
At the Lord’s Table, we have communion with Christ and each other. Taking Communion
involves a common confession of like-minded, like-believing persons who identify themselves
and are given identity through this sacrament. Communion was always part of a fellowship meal in the early church. Private celebrations would have been foreign to the early Christians.
The Apostle Paul speaks of this sacrament as an act to express the unity of the body (1
Cor.10:17). The traditional prayers of the liturgy have a community orientation, particularly the
“Prayer of Approach” (“May Your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one
with all the world … “). The traditional understanding of the Scriptures and the Church is that the sacraments would be practiced in community – even if just a small community of two or three.
When Communion is observed, all who are present should be invited to participate. So, for
example, serving Communion to a wedding couple and not the gathered community is foreign to our understanding of the sacrament.
As an exception, the church has always taken Communion to the sick and shut-in, but even in
such situations, those serving share in the elements – and we frame it as something like bringing them part of the feast that they weren’t able to attend with the rest of the family.
There is no scriptural direction as to how frequent Communion should be celebrated. There is
evidence that the early church observed Communion weekly. The early Methodists were urged to celebrate weekly, or as often as they could. (see Wesley’s sermon, “The Duty of Constant Communion.”)
We encourage celebration at least monthly.
We do not believe that concerns about celebrating too frequently or taking too much time in a worship service should play any role in determining frequency.
The Value of Ritual
The Communion service in early Methodism followed the Order of the Book of Common Prayer, enlarged and enlivened by hymn-singing and extemporaneous prayer.
While there are a variety of rituals available, the use of common, accepted rituals/liturgies has
always been a valued part of the celebration of Communion among Methodists. Commonly held prayers, symbols, and actions of common ritual confirm and promote our identity as a
community, connecting us with the church catholic through the centuries. Ritual provides
structure, familiarity, and order to our experience, and reliable reaffirmation of our beliefs.
Use of a ritual/liturgy doesn’t mean that Communion should be an “add-on” to the normal
service. A service in which Communion is celebrated should be designed to set a path to Table from the beginning of the service, to prepare participants to meaningfully receive the sacrament.
Principles for Adapting Communion Liturgy
There may be contexts where the use of a traditional Communion ritual would unduly encumber worship (e.g. in a cultural grouping far different from that in which the present services arose). To ensure that the Communion service that is used is faithful to our collective understandings of the Lord’s Supper, pastors should consider the following principles:
- Does the service express both great joy and a sense of the presence of Christ (which will, of course, produce the proper “reverence”)? If we are faithful to what the scriptures and church history reveal about Communion in the earliest days, the service will be more a joyful celebration of the living presence of Christ (with awe at the immensity of his love) than it will be primarily a penitential service.
- Does the service tell the story of God’s saving acts from the scriptures of Old and New
Testament as happens well in “the Great Thanksgiving” in the first service provided on
the next page?
- Does the service contain the various components of deep intimacy (communion) with the holy, saving God: expressions of repentance, desire for cleansing, expressions of
- Does the service balance the various dimensions of Communion (i.e. looking in, looking back, looking up, looking around, looking forward, and looking out ? (See introduction above.)
- Does the service incorporate the prayers of the church over the years (which have been carefully formulated so as to convey the truth of the sacrament), especially the prayer of approach and the prayers of consecration, and the biblical words of distribution?
Leaders without great experience or education in worship would be wise to interact with seasoned church leaders when making plans to innovate. Two time-tested rituals that are suitable for use in Free Methodist Churches are provided on the following pages.
SERVICE OF HOLY COMMUNION (1)
You who truly and earnestly repent of your sins, who live in love and peace
with your neighbours, and who intend to lead a new life, following the
commandments of God and walking henceforth in his holy ways, draw near
with faith, and take this holy sacrament for your comfort; and humbly
bowing make your honest confession to Almighty God.
The General Confession
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, Maker of all things, Judge of all people,
who with great mercy has promised forgiveness and deliverance to all who
turn to you with hearty repentance and true faith, we confess that we have
sinned against you and are hopeless without your grace. Have mercy upon
us, O merciful Father, have mercy upon us; pardon and deliver us from all
from blindness of heart and lack of love;
from the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil;
from false doctrine and neglect of your Word;
from disbelief and lack of trust.
O God, our Saviour, keep us this day without sin. Give us strength to serve
and please you in newness of life, and to honour and praise your name,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Almighty God, you have faithfully watched over us, and graciously helped
us; now hear our petitions:
for good health and sound minds;
for strength to earn our bread;
for rest from worry and labour;
for safety in travel;
for protection from enemies;
for Christian homes; and for a just and strong nation.
Out of your compassion give us those things which are good and proper for
our souls, and protect us by your might in all our tribulations. Grant us in
this world the peace that is from above, and bring us to everlasting life in the
world to come, through Christ our Lord, who taught us to pray saying:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy
kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us
this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we
forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into
temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and
the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
Almighty God, who created the world from nothing, and who sustains it by
your powerful Word, support and protect us that we may serve you as
intercessors in your world; and to that end hear our prayers for those in need:
for the sick, the infirm and the aged;
for widows and orphans, the poor and oppressed;
for the lonely, discouraged, bereaved and heartbroken;
for those in bondage to sin, unmindful of God, without knowledge of the
gospel of salvation.
We pray too for all your servants who honour Christ in their work:
for homemakers and wage earners;
for teachers and students;
for doctors, nurses, and others who serve the sick;
for labourers and executives;
for farmers and city dwellers;
for the aged and the young;
for those who govern and those who are ruled.
To each of these and to all others for whom we should pray, give
wisdom, strength and the power to endure, through Jesus Christ our
The Great Thanksgiving
Almighty God, you created us to enjoy your fellowship; and even when we transgressed your command, you did not forsake us, but chastened us as a merciful Father;
You called Abraham from the land of his fathers, and freed the children of Israel from bondage and slavery; you gave your law and sent your prophets to guide them in your ways;
At the right time you gave the world your only Son, who by his birth to a virgin, and through his temptations and ministry, his suffering and death, his resurrection and ascension, opened to us the way to heaven;
You sent your Holy Spirit, the Counsellor, who through the Apostles and the Church, called us to salvation; you adopted us and daily give us aid in the journey of faith by that same Spirit. Our hearts are full, O God, and in thanksgiving to you, we cry, Abba, Father.
In confidence that you will bring us to our full inheritance, and give us our place at the heavenly table with your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, we offer thanksgiving, joining our voices with all the Church to confess:
Christ has died,
Christ has risen,
Christ will come again.
Prayer of Approach
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, send the power of your Holy Spirit upon us, that we may experience anew the suffering, death and resurrection of your Son, Jesus Christ. May your Spirit help us to know, in the breaking of this bread and the drinking of this cup, the presence of Christ who gave his body and blood for all. And may your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, united in service to the world. Amen.
Hear us, O merciful Father, we humbly ask, and grant that we, receiving this bread and this cup, as He commanded and in the memory of His passion and death, may partake of His most blessed body and blood.
In the night of His betrayal, Jesus took the bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples, saying, “Take, eat; this is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
In like manner, after supper He took the cup, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of this all of you, for this is My blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins; do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” Amen.
Words of Distribution
The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for you, preserve your soul and body unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed upon Him in your heart, by faith with thanksgiving.
The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for you, preserve your soul and body unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s blood was shed for you, and be thankful.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; and may the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be yours now and forever. Amen.
SERVICE OF HOLY COMMUNION (2)
You who truly and earnestly repent of your sins, who live in love and peace with your neighbours, and who intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God and walking in his holy ways, draw near with faith, and take this holy sacrament for your comfort; and humbly bowing, make your honest confession to Almighty God.
The General Confession
Let us join together in the prayer of confession:
Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, maker of all things, judge of all people, we confess that we have sinned, and we are deeply grieved as we remember the wickedness of our past lives. We have sinned against You, Your holiness, and Your love, and we deserve only Your indignation and anger.
We sincerely repent, and we are genuinely sorry for all wrongdoing and every failure to do the things we should. Our hearts are grieved, and we acknowledge that we are hopeless without your grace. Have mercy upon us.
Have mercy upon us most merciful Father, for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, who died for us.
Forgive us. Cleanse us. Give us strength to serve and please You in newness of life, and to honour and praise your name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us continue our confession as we pray together the prayer Jesus taught his disciples:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
The Affirmation of Faith
O Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, who with great mercy has promised forgiveness to all who turn to You with hearty repentance and true faith, have mercy upon us, pardon and deliver us from our sins, make us strong and faithful in all goodness, and bring us to everlasting life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let us pray for inner cleansing:
Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are opened, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your name, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
It is always right and proper that we should give you thanks and praise, O Lord God, for you alone reign. You judge the world in righteousness and rule over all the nations. Therefore, with angels and archangels, and with all the inhabitants of heaven we honour and adore your glorious name, evermore praising you and saying:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts! Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Glory be to you, O Lord, most high. Amen.
The Gloria Patri
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Amen.
The Prayer for Spiritual Communion
We do not come to this Your table, O merciful Lord, with self-confidence and pride, trusting in our own righteousness, but we trust in Your great and many mercies. We are not worthy to gather the crumbs from under Your table. But You, O Lord, are unchanging in Your mercy, and Your nature is love; grant us, therefore, God of mercy, God of grace, so to eat at this Your table that we may receive in spirit and in truth the body of Your dear Son, Jesus Christ, and the merits of His shed blood, so that we may live and grow in His likeness, and, being washed and cleansed through His most precious blood, we may evermore live in Him and He in us. Amen.
The Prayer of Consecration of the Elements
Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, who gave in love Your only Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption, who by His sacrifice, offered once for all, did provide a full, perfect, and sufficient atonement for the sins of the whole world, we come now to Your table in obedience to Your Son, Jesus Christ, who in His holy Gospel commanded us to continue a perpetual memory of His precious death until He comes again.