Editor’s note: Corey Jackson is the Senior Pastor of Trinity Park Church in Cary, North Carolina.
Back in April and May, as a pastor I was struggling to know how I could serve our congregation here in North Carolina regarding offering them the Lord’s Supper during COVID. This is a hardship all churches around the world have faced. Each church’s leadership has needed to thoughtfully and carefully navigate toward a solution.
At first I reached out to many fellow pastors here in the States for advice. I’m a minister in the PCA and have great connections with several other ministers here in the Raleigh-Durham area. We were on a Zoom call in April talking about how we might be able to serve the Lord’s Supper in COVID and one of my brothers asked me what my Chinese pastor contacts were doing about this issue. He asked me, “Since they were months ahead of us in figuring out practical, pastoral responses to COVID, perhaps they could be helpful in this?”
The next day I reached out to one of my close contacts in China who pastors a church in Chengdu of similar size and theological background to ours, and asked him how they had approached serving the Lord’s Supper. The options we were considering at our church at the time were:
1) Serve the Lord’s Supper virtually. I would explain the sacrament online, and then everyone would take the bread and wine/juice in their homes privately.
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2) Serve the Lord’s Supper in small, in-person services. We would wait longer and take time to think through unique precautions we could employ to bring groups of people from the church together to take the Lord’s Supper, while maintaining COVID restrictions like masking, socially distancing, etc.
3) Don’t serve the Lord’s Supper until much later. We could wait indefinitely until we were able to resume a worship experience that was similar to pre-COVID days, when everyone could come together to share the common meal.
Honestly, though prior to COVID I would have never entertained virtual communion, at the time I was beginning to consider the value of the first option. Medical doctors were hitting up my email inbox right and left conveying to me that the idea of gathering in-person for this or any purpose was ill-advised. With no end to COVID in sight, I wondered if virtual communion might be the right decision. Was I depriving our church members of a spiritual benefit they needed to be given in order to journey with God through this crisis? I wasn’t sure of the answer. I was hoping my friend’s pastoral experience in China, not just in persecution but now also in pandemic, might be a helpful guide for me.
When I heard back from him I was not disappointed. Over a secure messaging app, this pastor went deep into conversation with me, with great theological detail, to help me understand why they had not opted to go the virtual route.
Here is a glimpse into the depth of his response back to me:
Here is how we think and how we operate. First, even though we believe the meaning and blessing of the Lord’s Supper are spiritual, yet the elements of true, face-to-face fellowship, served by church pastors and elders, in the context of a church gathering, with careful guardianship over the spiritual situation of members are important to maintain.
Second, as a Presbyterian church, think of how during the persecution years in Scotland there was no Lord’s Supper for many years. This helps people be more eager to wait for God’s glory. As the Chinese house church, during the most difficult years there was no Lord’s Supper, yet we were even more eager to wait until the coming of the dawn.
My friend encouraged me not to do communion in an online service, since that approach had not been one we would have entertained prior to COVID. He exhorted me, telling me that this pandemic isn’t the time to give up on what is and will always be core to our theology of the Lord’s Supper: face-to-face presence with God’s people. He advised me to be patient, to wait until things were better, and then to gather people in smaller groups in a park or a home or somewhere outside, yet still in the context of a church service.
His advice encouraged me to balance gospel urgency with continued patience. I relayed his words to our church’s elders. His recommendations won the day and guided our elders to make a coherent, faithful decision.
From that point forward, we began to carefully craft a way where our people could come together after an online service, in groups of 25 or less, to take the Lord’s Supper. The Sunday we planned to take the Lord’s Supper for the first time, I messaged my friend in China to tell him the good news—this was the big day when we would take communion for the first time in over three months!
He messaged me back immediately that their church in Chengdu had just taken the Lord’s Supper for the first time since COVID hit that same morning, only hours before we did! I was amazed at God’s sovereign timing.
Those Lord’s Supper outdoor mini-services were moments I will never forget as a pastor. Over the course of three hours, brothers and sisters in the church arrived to take the body and blood of Christ together in 15-minute groupings. We enjoyed embodied fellowship with each other, with Christ’s cross at the center.
During each small gathering, as I set the context for the Lord’s Supper, I told them about our sister church in China, who shared this same meal with us, 12 time zones away, in a very similar manner that very same morning. Knowing we were connected to the global body of Christ added another degree of richness to a moment that was already enormously rich. The grace of God shown to us at the cross was now conveyed to us, faithfully, in a pandemic.
Can you think of a time when connection to the global Church has changed the way you did something?