Many people unfamiliar with the United Methodist Church, because they are
new to the church or because they come from another denomination, have
questions about the United Methodist belief system, especially in regards to
Holy Communion. The questions and answers below will help you understand what
we believe, and will help you to know that we would like you to come join us
in sharing Communion.
Why do United Methodists call this sharing of bread and cup by
different names, such as Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, and Eucharist?
Each of these names is taken from the New Testament and highlights
certain facets of this sacrament’s many meanings. Calling it the Lord’s
Supper reminds us that it is a meal instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ and
hosted by him at his table whenever it takes place. Calling it Holy
Communion reminds us that it is an act of the most holy and intimate
sharing, making us one with Jesus Christ and part of his body, the church.
Calling it the Eucharist, a term taken from the New Testament Greek word
meaning thanksgiving, reminds us that giving thanks to God for all that God
has done is an essential part of the meal. By using different names, we
acknowledge that no single name can contain the rich wealth of meanings in
this sacred act.
What do United Methodists mean when they call this act a
Our Confession of Faith states: “We believe the sacraments, ordained by
Christ, are symbols and pledges of the Christina’s profession and of God’s
love toward us. They are means of grace by which God works invisibly in us,
quickening [bringing to life], strengthening and confirming our faith in
him. Two Sacraments are ordained by Christ our Lord, namely Baptism and the
Lord’s Supper.” The term is taken from the Latin sacramentum, which was a
Roman soldier’s pledge of allegiance. A sacrament is God’s pledge of
allegiance [love and faithfulness] to us, and our answering pledge of
allegiance to God.
Do United Methodists believe that the bread and wine physically
or chemically change into Christ’s flesh and blood in the sacrament?
No, we believe that the change is spiritual. They signify the body and
blood of Christ for us helping us to be Christ's body in the world today,
redeemed by Christ’s blood. We pray over the bread and the cup that they may
make us one with Christ, “one with each other, and one in service to all the
I am a Christian, but not a United Methodist. Am I invited to
receive Communion in a United Methodist Church?
Yes, indeed. It is the Lord’s Supper, not ours and it is Christ who
invites you. As our ritual puts it: “Christ our Lord invites to his table
all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in
peace with one another.” We do not refuse any who present themselves
desiring to receive. Whether you should receive Communion with us is between
you and God.
I do not wish to receive Communion because doing so would be
disloyal to my religion or my denomination. May I attend a United Methodist
Communion service and not receive Communion?
Yes indeed. We do not want anyone to feel unwelcome because, for whatever
reason, they do not choose to receive Communion. Simply remain seated when
others go forward, or pass the bread and cup along if they are passed to
you, and no one will question what you do.
Should I receive the Communion if I feel unworthy?
Two thousand years ago Jesus ate with sinners and those whom others
scorned. He still does. None of us is worthy, except by God’s grace. Thank
God we don’t have to earn worth in God’s eyes by our goodness or our faith.
Your sacred worth, and ours, is God’s free gift. No matter what you have
done or what your present condition, if you want Christ in your life you are
welcome at his table. Communion provides the opportunity for you to confess
your sins, to receive forgiveness, and to indicate your intention to lead a
May young children receive Communion?
Certainly. As The United Methodist Book of Worship puts it, “All who
intend to lead a Chrsitan life, together with their children are invited to
receive the bread and cup.” We remember that when some of Jesus’ disciples
tried to keep children away from him he said: “Let the little children come
to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God
belongs” (Mark 10:14 NRSV).
But do young children know what they are doing when they
Do they understand the full meaning of this holy sacrament? No, and
neither do any of us. It is a wonderful mystery, and children can sense
wonder and mystery. Children cannot understand the full significance of
family meals, but we feed them at our family tables and at Christ’s family
table. Young children experience being loved by being fed. They sense the
difference between being included and excluded at a family meal. They have
the faith of a child, appropriate to their stage of development, which Jesus
recognized and honored. Indeed, he said to adults: “Whoever does not receive
the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15 NSRV).
May I receive Communion without standing or kneeling?
Certainly. In some United Methodist congregations most persons receive
Communion while standing, while in others most receive while kneeling; but
you are always welcome to receive while seated. If others are kneeling at
the rail, you may remain standing and you will be served. You may also come
forward and be seated on the front row, or come forward in your wheelchair,
and you will be served. Or you may notify an usher, and someone will come to
you and serve you where you are seated.
If someone in my family wishes to receive Communion but cannot
come to the church service, can Communion be brought to them?
Certainly. As an extension of the congregation’s celebration of the
Lord’s Supper, Communion is brought to persons, wherever they are, who wish
it but could not attend the service. This can be done by the pastor or other
clergy, or by designated laypersons.
Is Communion possible at weddings, at healing services, or at
funerals or memorial services?
Yes. If you wish to arrange this, talk with your pastor.
The author is The Rev. Hoyt L. Hickman,
former director of worship resources for the United Methodist Church.