Christopher Chelpka

Want to limit germ spread during communion?

Passing communion trays is a very common practice, but it doesn’t seem to be the best way if you are trying to limit the spread of germs. So are there other ways to serve communion in accord with God’s word and Christian prudence?

Consider the history of the Reformed churches. Though not without some controversy, the history of the Reformed churches shows a variety in practice. According to Hughes Oliphant Old in Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church:

At the heart of the Reformed understanding of the Lord’s Supper is the sharing of the sacred meal. The medieval Mass put the emphasis on reciting the canon through which the miracle of transubstantiation took place and the consecrated host was offered up as a sacrifice for the living and the dead. As Reformers taught it, the communion was the focal point of the service. The sign Jesus gave was the sharing of a meal and as the Reformers understood it the visual sign should look like a meal shared by the communicants. Various approaches were taken by churches to make the celebration look more like the sharing of a meal. In Strasbourg, right from the start, the altar was replaced with a table. People came forward and stood around the table as the ministers passed the bread and wine to them. In Zurich a table was set in the middle of the church in front of the pulpit. While the people remained in their seats the bread and the wine were passed to them. The church was centered around the baptismal font, the pulpit, and the table. In the Rhineland, the Netherlands, and Scotland special tables were set up in the front of the church and the people left their seats, sat down at these tables, and passed trays of bread and the cups from one to another.

For more details on this history, see B. B. Warfield’s article, The Posture of the Recipients at the Lord’s Supper: A Footnote to the History of Reformed Usages., and also Liturgical Space: Christian Worship and Church Buildings in Western Europe 1500-2000 by Nigel Yates.