Work Yet To Do With The Methodists

One of the freedoms I have as ecumenical officer and no longer a diocesan bishop is that I can, from time to time, worship on Sundays with full communion partners and other communions with which we are in bilateral conversation. It has been a joy to worship occasionally at St. Paul Lutheran here in Davenport, Iowa. The pastor is Peter Marty (Martin’s son) and it is a growing, alive congregation which seems to find a place for all and reaches out into the community and beyond in mission.

This morning I attended a local United Methodist congregation and, I must say, the experience was not as good. While one must be careful in generalizing and it is certainly true that we do not make ecumenical decisions anecdotally, but upon the official positions of Christian communions, the eucharistic practice in this particular parish left much to be desired.

Initially I was pleased that the Lord’s Supper was being observed as the principle act of worship on this Lord’s Day knowing that this is not invariably the practice among Methodists. I was expecting the “open communion” invitation to communion “All who have faith in Christ or desire faith in Christ are invited to communion at the Lord’s Table.”

This is fairly standard Wesleyan practice and not unknown in Episcopal churches (much to this ecumenical officer’s discomfort!). I was also prepared for the tiny cubes of what appeared to be Wonder Bread and the small thimbles of Welch’s grape juice. 

These are ongoing issues for our bilateral dialogue and, under the terms of our interim Eucharistic sharing, are not normally a problem. We require that wine be available at these celebrations even while recognizing that the Methodists equally require grape juice. Solution, a chalice of each.          

What I was NOT prepared for was the truncated Eucharistic prayer. I am uncomfortable when Lutherans sometimes use basically only the Words of Institution as a sufficient consecractory prayer. In this case it was just the opposite! There was a said Sursum Corda, a sung Sanctus, a freeform prayer giving thanks for our creation and and redemption in Christ (all fine) and then NO Words of Institution! Not even a recalling of the Lord’s Supper which the rubrics in the bulletin did indeed require. Then there was a sung Acclamation (“Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again”), more prayer and a sung Great Amen! 

During our interim Eucharistic sharing time, our requirement is that an ordained bishop or presbyter from each communion stand at the Table together and than an authorized rite from one of the two churches be used. In such celebrations in which I have participated I have been impressed with the way it has been done, honoring both traditions, but also living up to the expectations of good eucharistic practice.

We have some work to do before finding our way forward into a full communion relationship with the United Methodists. There will have to be a good bit of teaching and learning on both sides and some clear expectations as to how the Eucharist is to be celebrated on Sunday mornings. A certain diversity of practice is to be expected (and indeed, if we are honest, there is a good bit of diversity on Sunday mornings across The Episcopal Church!).

But both the liturgical and ecumenical movements have gone a long way over the last decades in providing clear guidance about what good eucharistic practice appears to be. All of us need to honor those principles if we are indeed to achieve “full” communion.     

26 Responses to “Work Yet To Do With The Methodists”

  1. Reverend boy Says:

    Wonderbread cubes and welch’s grape juice thimbles! I remember those from the free-will baptist days of my youth. OY!

  2. Marshall Scott Says:

    Oh, dear! In my area, not far from United Methodist seminary, the discussion has been about rediscovery of the Eucharist and of liturgy among United Methodists. Somehow, this congregation seems to have found form with questionable function.

    Which raises an interesting question: how do we understand our own Quadrilateral, and just how do our full communion relationships work within that? (More a question to ponder than something I’d expect to answer in a blog response, or even a full post; but as a Convention Deputy something I need to be sufficiently aware of for myself.)

  3. ecubishop Says:

    Well, the Quadrilateral is not a complete and full statement of Anglican ecclesiology as some would want to make it. But it is certainly the “bottom line” for us ecumenically. We really can’t enter into full communion relationships without agreement on those four principles.

  4. Rev. Charles Emery Says:

    As a United Methodist Elder just retiring after 43 years of ordained ministry, I could not agree with you more. I was embarassed to read your comment and yet within the last 8 yearsI have sat through a eucharist celebrated by a UM bishop without either anamnesis or epiclesis.
    Much off it is attributable to education many have received in seminary as well as the tradition in which we were raised. We also serve in congregations that need to be introduced to good liturgical practice. But that is no excuse for professional clergy.
    Bishop, I beleive this is one area where Episcopal leadership can help. Beginning with seminaries and Order of Elders within our Annual Conferences an educational effort should be made to train in both theology and practice. We have made a good start with “This Holy Mystery” now we need to get our clergy to take it seriously,


  5. ecubishop Says:

    Yes, “This Holy Mystery” is a great document and certainly points the clear way forward for the UMC. One of the great things about ecumenism and the drive toward full communion is that we do learn from each other. Episcopalians can surely help Methodists with good liturgy and sacramental theology. If you will just teach us something about Mission!

  6. Bill Haley Says:

    The technical terms used above are well beyond this UMC layman. But in general we in the UMC sometimes neglect the importance of Holy Communion and also have the problem of impatience when the preacher runs past the hour. But really, the comment on wonder bread and juice is “picky picky picky picky.” Tell us some of this stuff in lay terms, please. A small loaf of rough bread is usual where I have been, and often wafers as a choice. Since wine is just a symbol (yes “just”) it boggled my layman’s mind that wine might in some way be a “requirement.” I wish we UMCFs could help you guys with some of your intolerance problems. But we have a bit of it ourselves. Maybe if you tried Welchs some time (did he really check the bottle?) you would deter the impression that many have that Episcolalians do like their alcohol. But perish that thought as it appears we are working on ecumenism, not a party.

  7. ecubishop Says:

    Well, Bill, I will freely admit that the comment on the type of bread used at the UMC service I attended was probably “picky, picky, picky.” Indeed, in my own church one can find everything from “fish-food-like” wafers, to whole wheat wafers, to whole loaves, to pita bread, and more.

    I was more concerned that the word’s from the Last Supper were not even uttered at the communion service. As for the wine, yes “we are working on ecumenism, not a party” and the vast majority of Christians — Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican and others — follow the practice to which we are committed by the words of something called the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.

    Among those commitments we are bound to celebrate “the two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself — Baptism and the Supper of the Lord — ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.”

    In other words…water…bread…and wine.

  8. John colatch Says:

    I am surprised that the UM Church in question did not include the recalling of the Last supper in its rubrics, since it sounds as if the musical order of service was used. I use musical setting B, and I always include Christ’s words of institution. they are printed clearly on the page! If they were left out, it was a deliberate decision by the pastor, which hints at other problems.
    I sometimes attend a United Methodist church near me where the pastor issues the invitation to “all the baptized” which I find troubling. Since I work on a college campus, my table is an open table, since I take seriously John Wesley’s belief that communion can be a converting ordinance. I use grape juice, simply because my students come from many backgrounds and, while the juice may be boring, it is not offensive.

  9. Rev. Ron McCreary Says:

    Perhaps you know the story behind Welch’s grape juice. A very abbreviated version is on the Welch’s site at My understanding is that Dr. Welch’s concern was this his Methodist church, active as it was in the misnamed Temperance Movement (it was an abstinence movement) was nonetheless using alcohol in church. One of the problems he faced was storing unfermented juice without refrigeration, which was not widely available at the time.

    John Wesley himself agreed with St Paul that a little wine is good for the stomach (1 Timothy 5:23). On the other hand Wesley was an opponent of distilled spirits, having seen what rum did to the Industrial Revolution underclass. Methodists have trended to follow Romans 14:21 instead of 1 Timothy; but in fact we don’t think much about this heritage at all, and many Methodists no longer are teetotalers. (They dance and play cards, too.)

    It was once about personal holiness. Now, I think, it’s just about habit.

  10. Kermit Krueger Says:

    But isn’t the purpose of communion not what prayers or other liturgical acts are included (or excluded), but finding in the simple gifts of bread and cup Christ Jesus?

    We United Methodists have our official liturgy which is proper in every way and has all the labeled parts of a western Church litrugical sacrament. But as another soon retiring UM pastor, I have completely ignored official liturgies for the sacrament for 40 years. I cannot apologize for doing so because my act was wholly willful. That’s not to say I ignore thangsigiving, anamnesis, epiclesis, words of institution, etc., etc. Such things are almost always there though seldom named. I do not claim any lovelienss of language, centuries of tradition, only the experience of meeting Christ, that is, ommunion, the most reasured experience of any believer’s soul.

    Wesley understood sacraments not to be the prized possession of the Churches, but those liturgical times or rituals in which Christ is experienced. And, though bishops may weep, I believe I have chosen wisely and faithfully.

  11. ecubishop Says:

    Well, this bishop certainly will “weep” if this perspective is widely held in the United Methodist Church for it will surely jeopardize full communion between our churches, and violates ecumenical progress since the World Council of Churhes’ document “Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry.”

  12. Reverend Sue Says:

    I am a United Methodist Elder. I agree with our Anglican friend in several ways. I too have seen Holy Communion done very poorly in UMC churches, even by a Bishop or two! By poorly, I mean the truncated Eucharistic prayer and lack of the words of institution, which I was taught are the single MOST important part of the rite. I have seen so many times the presider standing with his or her back to the bread and cup, never making eye contact with those who are listening using no vocal inflections at all. However those latter two occur in other denominations as well.
    I struggled with the wine/grape juice thing for a long time – somehow the juice seemed to be “not the real thing” but I eventually came to the realization that symbolism is what you make it. To me, I would rather experience the “bite” of wine rather than the sweetness of grape juice, with the wine symbolizing the sacrifice. But one can equally look at juice as symbolizing the sweetness of the blood of Christ.
    I have seen a lot of improvement in UMC Eucharistic practice over the last 20 years, but we need more. We need it not just to please other Christians, but for our own people, that they are truly experiencing the presence of Christ.

  13. george nesmith Says:

    AHH the elevation of form over function. What matter the specific words or the products used if the participants are receiving the words of Christ in their hearts and translating them to their behavior. The complaint is nothing but an insiders attempt to maintain their status. Christians should be in full communion without preconceived notions that have nothing to do with the acceptance of Christ and everything to with maintaining a status quo to the benefit of those who are in the pulpit to the detriment of those in the pews.

  14. Rev. Ralph Mueckenheim Says:

    Ecubishop is overly serious about worship.

  15. ecubishop Says:

    Guilty as charged…I don’t think there’s anything more important…

  16. Christopher Says:

    I think this highlights something sometimes not acknowledged in ecumenical conversations. We may in fact not agree on certain matters, and what might that mean for unity or not. I know many Lutherans would disagree with you on the WoI as obviously here some Methodists disagree with you about wine and use of a particular prayer or pattern (after all, our own absorbtion of the Antichene pattern in the 1979 is quite different from the Roman pattern found in our 1549, 1662, etc.).

    Though obviously as an Episcopalian I agree with you about the Quadrilateral, that needn’t mean other Christians will agree with us about it. And from folks like Fr. Haller, it’s clear that at one point we didn’t even agree on what interpretation of the Quadrilateral with regard to bishops.

    In the other direction, Rome thinks our orders no orders at all. Having observed Episcopalians in discussions with other bodies, I’m struck how we play ourselves up when talking with other bodies stemming from the Reformation or its aftermaths and find ourselves angered and hurt when we’re treated the same way by Rome. I’m also struck at what happens when ecumenical conversations are largely held at higher levels and how different they are when those conversations meet people on the ground.

  17. ecubishop Says:

    Hard to know how to respond to this, Christopher. I have no idea what the “WoI” is that “many Lutherans would disagree” with me on.

    Nor do I know what the “Antichene pattern in the 1979” book is.

    As to the Quadrilateral: I never said all Christians agree with us that these are the essentials. Only that we do.

    As ecumenical officer of this church, I neither “play ourselves up when talking with other bodies stemming from the Reformation” nor am I “angered and hurt when we’re treated the same way by Rome.”

    I will agree that there is an inevitable gap between ecumenical conversations are held “at higher levels and how different they are when those conversations meet people on the ground.”

    Both are important.

  18. Matt Says:

    Not having the words of institution is not standard Eucharistic practice for Methodists, so what you experienced is (as far as I’m aware) not representative of our tradition. As for open communion, that’s not going away. We strive to educate people on the proper respect that should be shown to the sacrament, but we do not assume ourselves to be in the position to judge who is and is not unworthy. However miserably we fail to live into the “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” slogan of ours, we at least try to make this true of our Eucharist.

  19. Carol Hosler Says:

    Bishop Epting, I met you at General Convention 2006. I shared that as a retiring (but not shy) Episcopal priest, I would be worshiping in a Methodist Church (there being no Episcopal or ELCA church closer than a 1 hour drive away). Now, much to my surprise, I have been called to serve this small parish as its part-time priest/pastor. Good Shepherd, as the only mainline Protestant church in town, is committed to growing into an intentional multi-denominational parish. We plan to study “Holy Mystery” and the Episcopal/Methodist study guide in the coming year, before we set out to develop our agreement as an “ecumenical shared ministry.” The ELCA bishop, as well as Episcopal and Methodist, are very supportive. And the DS couldn’t be more helpful. We are excited about working where the rubber meets the road.

    I have experienced a variety of VERY watered down Eucharists at local UMCs but spectacular Eucharists at the annual conference level.

    What an adventure we are embarking on at Good Shepherd UMC, Kearny, Arizona.

  20. Julie Says:

    Rather than continually criticize the way UMC celebrate the Eucharist try to see it from this point of view. They have open communion–allowing everyone to take part through faith and grace. Good for you if you’ve never been in a position to ask yourself “if we attend can we participate in communion?”

  21. Rev. Carl Chamberlain Says:

    I grew up on the hills of northern Appalachia, an area that still shows its heritage as part of the “burned over district” and a comfortable home of conservative fundamentalism. I am also a product of my Methodist Episcopal home church and influenced by my German Lutheran mother (Missouri Synod), though not aware of that until I answered my Call in mid-life.

    As a United Methodist pastor with full ordination credentials I am embarrassed by colleagues whose liturgical practice leaves so much to be desired. Like you, I have experienced some poor/sloppy/ignorant/lazy practices, call them what you will.

    While in seminary I came to realize my soul is fed by good liturgy. Along with the Word, this sacrament is something that should consistently unite us. I have served some congregations that truly appreciate good practice and one that railed against it.

    I look forward to a full Communion agreement between our traditions and in time may well become an “Anglo-Methodist”.

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