Pastoral Letter 3/27/2020 and Guidelines for Distributing the Lord’s Supper During the COVID-19 Pandemic

March 27, 2020

Dear Saints of God,

Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ, who gives His flesh for the life of the world. I pray that the Lord continues to grant you His grace and strength!

These are difficult times for our families, churches, communities, country, and world. The effects of the Coronavirus are not limited to other parts of the country and people outside the Church. The number of cases continue to increase and there are also pastors and lay members who have contracted the virus from across the Synod. Over the last few weeks, I have written two previous letters (available on the district website) and offered conference calls and now video conference calls to provide support, encouragement, and guidance for pastors as we seek to navigate these waters together. I am thankful for their faithfulness, patience, and charity as they support and interact with one another across their circuits and the district.

One of the concerns that has been expressed to me repeatedly by pastors during these recent days is a desire for counsel regarding how congregations might celebrate the Lord’s Supper and still show loving concern for one another and not risking exposure to the Coronavirus. With that in mind, I have sought guidance from a number of health care professionals who are members of Missouri District congregations across the state. These are faithful LCMS laypeople who are serving faithfully in their vocations in the medical field, but who also expressed appreciation for the church’s sensitivity and desire to care for both the bodies and souls of members. Their counsel was very helpful in creating guidelines for congregations to consider at present for the celebration and distribution of the Lord’s Supper. I shared the counsel from the health care professionals with the Missouri District Praesidium and the guidelines for their feedback and suggestions. These four men have been a great blessing and support for myself and the district during this time. Following this letter, you will find a copy of those guidelines, which are intended to assist pastors and congregation leaders in considering whether to offer the Lord’s Supper at present time and if so what precautions to take for the care of God’s people.

I also want to commend to the pastors and church leaders of the district a recent opinion from the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations titled “Communion and COVID-19” that is available on the district website. This document seeks to assist us in our walking together as we seek to faithfully care for our congregations. I hope that this document will be beneficial to you as you consider these current issues.

The sainted Concordia Seminary professor, Dr. Norman Nagel often would comment in class, “God never leaves His people in doubt” as words of sage counsel for matters related to pastoral practice. Thanks be to God that in these dark and anxious times that pastors of our congregations remain armed with the Word and Absolution and the opportunity to remind the saints that they are “the baptized.” Though there is much fear and worry, God still does not leave His people in doubt. Pastoral care during these unprecedented days will always seek to drive out all doubt by pointing the saints to Christ and His gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation.

There is also much concern among pastors and laity alike about the desire of God’s people to receive the Lord’s Supper, especially as we approach Holy Week. What follows are a few reflections on the blessing that is the Lord’s Supper and how we might receive this blessing during the present crisis.

Lutheran Christians understand the Lord’s Supper neither as a burden for us to bear or an action either on our part or behalf, but as a gift of God. The reception of the Lord’s Supper is intended by God to be a healing balm for troubled consciences not another burden of the Law that one must fulfill. No one is talking about rejecting the Lord’s Supper. However, we can point people to what God has promised through His Word, through Baptism and absolution. The saints can be comforted in knowing that they are not under the burden of the Law to feel that because they have not received the Lord’s Supper and therefore under God’s judgment. Rather, we can point them to gifts given – Holy Word, Holy Baptism, and Holy Absolution and point them to when we can receive Lord’s Supper together.

Currently, there are many services of the Word that have been made available to God’s people. From very simple and basic services to services from Lutheran Service Book (e.g. Matins and Vespers, Morning and Evening Prayer, Service of Prayer and Preaching), many congregations have the opportunity to hear God’s Word and join in the prayers of the faithful. Additionally, Bible studies and family devotions are also being made available right now for congregations. But pastors also have the opportunity to remind God’s people of who they are as the baptized and forgiven, children of God. One way to do so would be to use a Service of Baptismal Remembrance that could be streamed for the congregation. Another way to bring comfort to troubled consciences would be to offer by appointment individual confession and absolution for members. Though a congregation may not be assembling together to receive the Lord’s Supper as a large group, God still does not leave His people in doubt through the ministry of the Gospel.

The blessing of the Lord’s Supper is Christ for His Church as He gives to us Himself under the bread and wine. The Lord’s Supper is not a work of the pastor or the Church, but a gift given to the Church. While the Roman Catholic Church advertises and encourages people to hear the saying of “the Mass” (Lord’s Supper) on the radio, Lutheran Christians still hold to the Scriptural teaching that that the benefit of the Lord’s Supper is not in its being “said” or “performed” by the pastor, but in it being received by the people of God. Whereas Holy Baptism is a gift given once and about which Christians are continually reminded, the Lord’s Supper is a gift that is not best talked about, but a gift received.

Lastly, I want to encourage pastors to engage in conversations with the other pastors of their respective circuits. Now is a time for charity as we interact with one another, but also a time to be open to the guidance of others with whom we are walking together. Conversations about how to approach the celebration and distribution of the Lord’s Supper at this time could be very beneficial with circuit pastors on a phone or video conference. Our desire is to be faithful to the Scriptures and Confessions as we love God, care for the flock, serve our neighbor, honor the God-given authority of government, and bear witness to Christ in our community. May God bless you to that end as you faithfully serve. I pray that these guidelines are beneficial for your congregation as you care for the souls and bodies of the flock.

Fraternally in Christ,




President R. Lee Hagan

Basic Theological Considerations for the Lord’s Supper for a Time Such as This

Doctrine always informs practice and though these are extraordinary times, our practice regarding the Lord’s Supper still focuses on the Scriptural and Confessional teaching of the Lord’s Supper. Here are some points that should be the starting point of our consideration of our practice of the Lord’s Supper during our present circumstances:

1. The celebration of the Lord’s Supper should occur according to our confession as the pastor consecrates the elements of bread and wine and then distributes the Sacrament to the people. Provision of gluten free wafers and non-alcoholic wine are common and have been discussed frequently elsewhere. The pastor should be present to consecrate the elements as should those who are receiving the Sacrament.

2. Lutheran Christians have always rejected the idea of the “Private Mass” and its emphasis on the Eucharist as a sacrifice and work of humanity rather than a gift from God. At the same time, Lutheran Christians have always sought ways to provide the Sacrament to those who desired to receive the Lord’s gifts. Therefore, the distribution of the Sacrament to the hospitalized and those who are “shut-ins” have always been part of the practice of the Lutheran Church.

3. Many of those things that we associate with the Lord’s Supper are not truly part of its essence. As noted in the first guideline, those things that are essential in the Sacrament are the bread, wine, and Word of God as spoken by a pastor and the communicant to receive. While things such as the location of distribution, physical posture of the communicant, and means by which the elements are received (e.g. hand or mouth, individual or common cup) are important considerations regarding one’s personal piety, they are not of the essence of the Sacrament.

4. Preparation for receiving the Sacrament for the communicant would at least include a minimal order of service. Such an order would include Invocation, Word, Confession and Absolution, Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Words of Institution and Benediction. (See Richard Warneck, Pastoral Ministry: Theology and Practice. St. Louis: CPH, 2018. P. 197.

Guidelines for Distributing the Lord’s Supper During the COVID-19 Pandemic (as of March 27, 2020)

1. Some congregations will determine that they will refrain from celebrating the Lord’s Supper out of concern for all of the members and until all can receive it together. This is understandable and commendable. Other congregations will seek to take steps to offer the Lord’s Supper, but in a way that seeks to show love and concern for God and for our neighbor and submission to those in authority and therefore would take great precautions considering the current situation in which the Church finds itself.

2. Pastors should only commune small groups of people, preferably in household family groups. Currently, the Missouri Governor has banned gatherings of ten or more.

3. All gatherings to receive the Lord’s Supper should be scheduled in advance in a manner that prevents one group being present with another group.

4. Before gathering for celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the pastor and all of those who will commune should wash their hands, have their temperature taken and not show any symptoms of fever, cough, or shortness of breath.

5. Pastors should consider holding the brief services of the Sacrament outside. The place for the communicants to stand or sit should maintain appropriate social distancing. Standing and without chairs is preferable if at all possible. This could help minimize the risk and exposure for all those involved. If the service is to be held in the Sanctuary, please consider having communicants stand or sit in metal chairs (not pews) and to not use the hymnals. At the time of distribution, communicants should not come forward to the communion rail, but remain where they are standing.

6. In preparation of the elements and vessels for the Sacrament, the pastor should wear surgical gloves, if they are available.

7. In advance of arrival, communicants should be provided instruction for receiving the Lord’s Supper and about the steps being taken to minimize the risk of exposure.

8. The elements may be prepared by placing the host on a disposable vessel (preferable) or a paten (if used, to be washed immediately afterwards) and individual cups on communion linen on a (credence) table for the exact number of communicants in advance of the service. The pastor would not need to handle the elements as part of the service and should not stand over the element for the consecration.

9. The communicants would then receive the host and cup as they are prepared and available on the table after consecration.

10. Congregations should strongly consider withholding the chalice from the communicants at this time. This is not about the use of the chalice itself but more about the physical contact between the one distributing and the communicant and the touching of the chalice, similar to concerns with communion trays, communion rails, and hymnals and the potential for exposure to others. If congregations choose to offer the chalice, care should be taken in the wiping of the chalice on the interior and exterior with a purificator soaked in “Everclear” pure grain alcohol.

11. “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8

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