Ordained Communion Servers

Discussion in 'General discussions' started by RBachman, Feb 8, 2018.

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  1. RBachman

    RBachman Puritan Board Freshman

    I was recently informed of a reformed confessional church in my denomination that has women along with deacons serving communion. The deacons are ordained the women are not. This concerned me because it may be a deliberate attempt to blur lines in ordained roles and remove inconvenient Biblical mandates. I am not a deacon and would object if asked to serve communion as well.

    What are the various views and practices of the churches represented on this forum? I am concerned about slippery slope possibilities, but am not sure how much involvement I should have as a Layman. But I am weary of the continued “progressive” slide.
     
  2. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable Staff Member

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  3. Beezer

    Beezer Puritan Board Freshman

    There's a large progressive PCA church in my area that allows women to serve communion alongside officers in the church. The same church also allows women to lead congregational prayer, confession, and scripture reading.

    There are four PCA churches in my area (two are plants) and all of them are progressive and on a liberal trajectory. I think your concerns are valid.
     
  4. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    Which does not address the original post. (Underlining supplied in both instances. Bold and italics per original.) --EDIT: No, the software here added italics where I didn't have them and I have been unable to remove the offending formatting. In the bottom quote below, only "Adopted" should be in italics.

    Administering and serving are quite different. If, as is permitted (I would argue, required) in the PCA, the congregation is seated before or around the table, odds approach 50-50 (if you are not sitting at the end of a pew) that you will be served by a woman.

    Unless there has been a recent change in the last couple of years, there is no requirement in the PCA Constitutional documents that the communion be served by one ordained.
     
  5. RBachman

    RBachman Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you. The paper was intereting on a number of points, and they quote Dabney which is good.

    I erred in my sloppy question. What is the difference between administering the sacraments and serving the sacraments?

    WCF 27-4 clearly describes the Pastor administering in the presiding, teaching, and admonission. But seems silent on who prepares and passes out the elements. BOCA does allow for non-ordained persons to help deacons in mercy ministry, but communion is not included in BOCA 9-7. And I couldn’t find any explicit statement about who physically passes out the which has always been deacons and elders in my experience even in non-reformed churches. Am I nit picking?
     
  6. RBachman

    RBachman Puritan Board Freshman

    Consistent with your remark, I could not find any requirment for an ordained communion server. But in nearly 25 years in the PCA and many more before then in other churches I have never been served by a non-ordained man as far as I know.
     
  7. RBachman

    RBachman Puritan Board Freshman

    I came from the Chesapeake Presbytery which likely covered your area. It was so liberal 20 years ago I almost joined an OPC church. But our local church was such a family we would have had to all go together! That experience is what makes Leary of any progressive changes. I feel like Tevya sometimes.
     
  8. Beezer

    Beezer Puritan Board Freshman

    The PCA church I described sets up various "communion stations" throughout the sanctuary and people leave their seats and line up at the closest station. Families or small groups of four or five people approach the elements at a time where the lay member (male or female) will pass out the bread and the officer will pass out the wine. I witnessed this first-hand when my family visited this church over the course of several months. I had never seen anything like it before or since.

    No, the churches I'm referring to are all in the Blue Ridge Presbytery.
     
  9. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    Such a "communion station" practice is common in evangelical churches in my experience. I hadn't heard of it being used in an (ostensibly) confessional Reformed church, however. Just out of curiosity, where in the Blue Ridge are you? We're moving there this summer.
     
  10. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher

    The pastor administers the sacrament.
    He hands it off to four deacons. The four deacons hand it to the people in the pew.

    When you have people in the pew pass the plate with the bread or wine around to one another, is that not serving?

    If a server serves you, then you give it to your wife, then your wife gives it to brother Harry further along in the pew, is that not serving?

    (Dont misunderstand, the ordained alone administer the sacraments. But, how does one feel comfortable in the serving?)

    Burroughs in Gospel Worship remedies this by all coming to the table.
     
  11. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    I have been in churches where the matter of who got out of their seats to assist in passing around the elements at the end of a pew was taken very seriously. In those churches only elders did this task, presumably as a sign that the Supper was served under the authority of the church or perhaps to watch over things in case someone tried to partake inappropriately.

    I have also been in churches where the matter of who handled the plates and trays at the end of the row was not viewed as a task with any special authority at all. In those churches, it was usually just done by ushers or by whomever collected the offering baskets, or even by whomever happened to be sitting on the end of the row and was willing to jump up and help out. Folks didn't attach much special meaning to it.

    If a church has the first sort of mindset, it would be concerning to see non-ordained persons given that responsibility. But if a church has the second sort of mindset, it should be no concern at all.

    So the issue here is not the practice itself, but what is meant by it and whether or not it sends a troublesome signal. Is the task of passing trays back to the next row viewed as a part of spiritual oversight? Scripture does not insist that only elders or deacons may pass the elements from one congregant to another, but it does give elders the job of spiritual oversight.

    I help pass the elements nearly every time I take the Supper, usually by handing them to the person seated next to me. Occasionally, probably because I tend to sit on the end of a row, I'm also asked to get up and handle the trays when they reach the aisle. My current church doesn't treat this task as an act of spiritual oversight, so I have no hesitations about helping out despite not being an officer. My only concern is not to spill anything in front of the whole congregation.
     
  12. Beezer

    Beezer Puritan Board Freshman

    I'm in Albemarle County; Charlottesville specifically.
     
  13. Von

    Von Puritan Board Freshman

    Amen and Amen!
     
  14. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    We sit at a table, and the elements are passed from the pastor around the table. So, we don't really have someone other than the pastor serving the Supper or passing out elements.

    The Confession assumes a practice like the one at our congregation. Note the Directory for Public Worship:
     
  15. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    In a great many churches, other than the loosest ones, typically it is elders or deacons (and not merely ushers) who pass the plates down the aisles. Perhaps it is a regional thing to some extent, but this is what I've seen in many churches in the South as well as some churches that are otherwise somewhat non-traditional when it comes to worship. The person in the aisle passing the plate to the next row is generally seen to be "serving" in a way that someone passing it to her neighbor in the pew is not. Thus, that role is invested with (or representative of) some authority, and I've seen conservative women get upset to see women performing this task. I think the first time I saw women serving communion was in a large EPC congregation that had recently come out of the PCUSA. If memory serves, they were elders.

    Is there anyone within the Presbyterian context who believes that women can do this that doesn't also believe that "a woman can do anything a non-ordained man can do" up to and including filling the pulpit under the authority of the senior pastor?

    There is an EPC congregation with which I'm familiar that has been gradually moving to the right since coming out of the PCUSA several years ago. They have what I guess you'd call two communion stations (one at the end of each aisle) which have always been manned by a pastor or a male elder. I don't know if that's how they did it going back to the PCUSA days or if at least in part they do it this way to avoid having the women elders or deacons they have (or had--I'm told they don't have any women elders anymore) be involved.
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2018
  16. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    I saw something like that one time in a large service in a Catholic Cathedral. But at least there, all of the servers were ordained priests or deacons. So perhaps they got that idea from Rome.

    But, as I alluded up thread, the whole idea of the congregants lining up strikes me as contrary to the Constitutional documents of the PCA.
     
  17. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    It is not clear to me from that statement what is actually done. Does the pastor hold on to the trays, or are they passed from hand to hand?
     
  18. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    In my experience it is more common in more liberal "liturgical" type churches, especially those who have an altar or communion rail at which you are expected to kneel.

    Perhaps it (coming forward) is becoming more common in evangelical churches, especially now that traditional pews have largely been done away with. It may be more common among evangelicals who want to get a little more "liturgical." It also seems to be what those churches that practice intinction do.
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2018
  19. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    They are passed from hand to hand. Sorry for the ambiguity.
     
  20. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    So if you are sitting between two women, you might be served by a woman? Or do the men sit on one side and the women on the other so that all the men go first and then it is passed to the women's side to prevent the risk of a woman serving a man?
     
  21. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    The person passing the bread or wine to the person sitting next to him isn't serving him.

    Think of it this way: you're at a restaurant, sitting in a booth, a you are closest to the wall. The waitress hands your fajitas to your wife, and she passes them to you. Has your wife served you?
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2018
  22. BGF

    BGF Puritan Board Sophomore

    We go forward in our congregation to receive the elements. It is distributed by the pastors and elders. We do not practice intinction.
     
  23. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    That's interesting because that has not been my experience. It's been in very non-liturgical evangelical "community" churches with praise bands, sermons based on Rick Warren books, sanctuaries that double as basketball gyms, etc. My impression was they were doing it because they saw it as emphasizing the community/fellowship aspect. That and it probably made clean up easier.
     
  24. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    I haven't been there in many years but I have fond memories of visiting my grandparents in Charlottesville as a child. We're going to be in Christiansburg or Roanoke.
     
  25. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher

    My point was, unless you are following the DPW (i.e. Burroughs explains this in Gospel Worship), then various kinds of people "pass the plate." Old people, younger people, women, men, etc. It doesn't matter whether you take no steps (people in the pew passing to to one another) or if you are sitting at one end and have to stand up, take three steps, and hand it off, physical steps are immaterial. The question revolved around "serving" (i.e. your hands on the plate if you are not ordained).

    If "your" hands are on it, and it gets "passed," its going to be really difficult to escape the position of "serving" in that regard, or trying to play fancy theological footwork on the people taking it from the pastor to the pew are serving and you aren't. It doesn't matter whether you pass it sitting, whether you stand up and walk and pass it, or whether you grab it from the pastor and walk to an aisle and pass it. Its all passing, i.e. serving.

    Unless of course, you could look to the DPW for some direction in that...
     
  26. BGF

    BGF Puritan Board Sophomore

    Someone is going to have to explain to me why "passing" is equated to "serving". When I cook, which is frequent, I sometimes announce to my family (usually with grandiose cheesiness), "Dinner is served!" By this I mean, I have prepared and presented food for you to eat. If my eldest son passes the rolls to my youngest son, he does not do so in the sense that he has prepared and presented the rolls for him. Equating these two terms just creates confusion.
     
  27. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    Whether it is right or wrong, or to what degree it represents Reformed thinking and to what degree it represents traditional cultural norms, in most churches with which I've been familiar, (Reformed and non-Reformed alike) "serving" communion (i.e. being called forward by the pastor, picking up the elements, sometimes praying aloud, being in the aisle, facilitating the elements moving from pew to pew) has been a task performed by ordained men, either elders or deacons. In some others, ushers may have also been involved, but they have always been men, although this is changing in some churches. I have little doubt that an egalitarian impulse is at work in the situation the OP describes, and that seems to be his concern. A lot of churches which aren't feminist at all care little for the DPW. That horse left the barn a long time ago. I think this is likely an example of encroaching feminism.

    I'm told that now there are women pallbearers at some funerals as well. These things would have been just about as unthinkable as women pastors, women in the infantry, etc. to previous generations.
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2018
  28. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    Yes. In my experience, there are many Presbyterians who believe a woman may get up from her seat to help pass around the elements but would never consider letting her fill the pulpit, nor to they use the argument you mentioned.

    In my last Presbyterian church, this was discussed at length several times. Those who wanted women to be getting up to help distribute the elements did not argue on the basis of women's rights. Rather, they wanted to protect the elements from being quasi-worshiped. In some high churches, and most egregiously in the Roman church, only those who're ordained will touch the serving vessels, as the vessels themselves are viewed to have a holy quality. The Presbyterians I knew argued that having any old Joe (or Josephine) be the one to start the elements moving down a pew kept folks from being tempted to worship the elements and emphasized the communal nature of the Supper.

    This church eventually moved toward elders-only, for other reasons. But the arguments for using anyone including women were based on protecting a pure understanding of the Supper, not on a gender-equality agenda.
     
  29. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    Interesting. Was this a church outside of the so-called "Bible Belt?" At least down here, and in areas adjoining it, I've seen very little danger of worshipping the elements in Presbyterian and Reformed churches. Most often they are denounced as "Baptist" instead when it comes to sacramental efficacy. Those on the other side tend to be FV types who also tend to be patriarchal.
     
  30. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    The church was in North Carolina. The pastor was a converted Catholic who was rather wary of a Catholic approach to things, so that may have been a factor.
     
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