Thursday, May 10, 2007

Lay people's duties in church

In my posting, "He Keeps Me Singing" (below) the comment section has discussion about lay people presiding at communion and then also discusses lay people or non-ordained people preaching. There are good reasons to both allow and not allow lay people to do the "official" things in church.

Pastor Eric says, "I understand the requirement of ordained clergy presiding over Holy Communion is to ensure good order, but a lay people can do far more damage preaching and no one says anything about that. As long as the Gospel is preached, go for it. Clergy have no special power."

I would like to suggest several things, or at least throw them out for discussion.

First, if the "power" of the communion is in the bread and wine, ie the body and blood, then it shouldn't matter who is presiding. The pastor may be a big hypocrit and sinner, unrepentant, but would be "ordained." The mouth that speaks the words or the hand that holds the bread doesn't hinder the Christ. I certainly understand that the Church has order to keep, however.

I was criticized on another Lutheran (of another stripe) blog because I said that I helped with communion at my church occassionally. Hey, I wasn't even presiding or saying a word. I was holding the tray! Where would we draw the line if the person was so important? Likewise, would we have to figure out who washed the communion ware????

Secondly, on the preaching. I'm sure there are "some" lay people who do a better job preaching than some "pastors." And there truly are some sermons that are memorable for years. But for the most part, people aren't going to remember what was said all that much.

Thirdly, I would suggest that the biggest influence that the lay people would have, positive or negative, in a church, is in their hospitality. How do they present themselves, and by extension, the Body of Christ, to anyone who comes through the door? And this applies to the weekdays as well as to Sunday Morning. Are they welcoming and helpful? Do they show any interest at all that someone is there?

About 25 years ago, our family attended a Lutheran Church in St. Paul that was across the street from the motel where we were staying. It was a nice church, nice formal liturgical service, stunning organ music, etc. No one greeted us. I greeted people as we left the pew. No one returned the greeting. We shook hands with the pastor, saying we were visitors. He didn't say anything welcoming. We took our daughter to the Sunday School so we could attend the adult forum. The Sunday School teacher wasn't welcoming at all. We were not greeted in any way in the Adult Fourm, even though we told people we were visitors. We talked with another pastor on the way out who also didn't greet us in any way.

This taught me a lot. As much as I like liturgy and formality, and also music done really well, I'll trade that for friendliness and "spirit" and a real give and take any day.



  1. Thank you for your post. I appreciated your thoughts.

    A welcoming congregation is key to proclaiming the Gospel. The pastor (or preacher) can preach the best sermon in the world, but if the "stranger" does not feel welcome, they more than likely won't return. During internship a couple was traveling through and decided to stop by. A couple members talked to them before worship. After they sat down another member came up to them and said, "Excuse, you are sitting in my spot". The visitors got up and left. Of course, when my supervisor heard about this he almost blew a gasket.

    The Word is preached in so manys. Clergy "normally" preach the sermon and preside at Communion and like you said, the laity have the awesome privilage and responsibility to show love through being welcoming. We all have our place.

    And to say one more thing, I have heard some darn good sermons by lay people and have heard the Gospel preached through lay people presiding at Communion.

    Thank you again for your post.

  2. Hey there,

    Lots of good stuff. I'll comment only on one thing (for now).

    The "power" of Holy Communion is in the Word which is joined to the bread and wine (in, with, and under, to use the Reformers' words). I'm of an extremely minority view that would not look askanse at lay presidency at the table. Heck, the church, not the clergy-dude with the funny clothes, is the custodian of the sacraments. The sacraments belong to the church, and if the church maintains order, decorum, and justice in celebrating and distributing the sacrament, I see no reason why clergy need be the sole gatekeepers to the table. I think a Christian Freedom argument can be made for opening up the table to other leaders, given that order, sanctity, etc. is maintained.

  3. Hey Zeph,
    I thought about writing that the power of the communion is the Word with the elements, but the phrase stuck in my mind was about the water with the Word. But that is always Word with a capital, right? I suppose there could be silent communion if people were silently praying.

  4. We more "free church" types do not have a requirement that clergy do communion. Usually that is the case, or clergy and deacons, but there are times when someone could share communion at their home at a small group, or help me with it, etc. It is the Lord's Table...not the clergy table, so if we are seeking the presence and grace of God, clergy is optional, IMO. There was no "clergy" as such when the church shared communion...of course, they made a mess of it, that is true, and had to be rebuked by Paul. ;-)

  5. A couple of things to think about...

    1. You are dead on about hospitality in the church. I couldn't agree more. If a person does not feel the church as a welcome place, then a beautiful liturgy and a well prepared and delivered sermon would probably not bring a person back.

    2. I stand by my thoughts about lay presidency. In an extreme situation (i.e. there is now way to get the sacraments for an extended amount of time), then I can see a reason why people would suggest that lay presidency by a recognized lay leader could fall within the confines of the Lutheran tradition. However, doing this because the pastor is at synod or vacation seems to me an abuse.

    I have someother thoughts about this, but I think it will end up on my own blog, so as not to hog your comment box. Nice little discussion going on here about difference in practice!


And what do you think?