The pattern for Holy Communion outlined in “Evangelical Lutheran Worship” begins with the recognition of what God is doing as the assembly gathers together for worship in any particular community. God assembles the body of Christ to encounter the living word of God in Jesus Christ through song, prayer, the proclamation of Scripture, preaching and the sacraments of baptism and communion.
Most members of the ELCA think that the time of welcome begins at the appointed time of worship. However, God’s work gathering and welcoming the assembly as the people of God begins much earlier than the appointed time for beginning worship. It lasts throughout the worship service and continues on after the sending of the community from the worship service.
The gathering and sending that lead in and out of worship extend beyond the entrance to the worship space and the doors of the church building. God draws the assembly together as they move from their homes to the church and into the worship space from the world. God’s saving mission for the world draws the world into worship — a startlingly wide welcome. And that same mission sends the assembly into the world to be gathered again.
All are welcome
Worship practice reflects and reveals the Christian community’s commitment to God’s saving mission for the whole world in the ways that worship invites, welcomes and includes all of the parts of the body of Christ. Welcome are the young and old, member and newcomer, those who are and are not baptized, and those of similar and different cultural backgrounds.
Assess the church building for ways that invite, welcome and include. Is the way to the worship space clearly marked? Are the members attentive to newcomers and trained in gracious hospitality? Does the congregation need to be reminded that it is God who calls the assembly together, and that unexpected guests have responded to God’s invitation?
Consider the gathering time of worship. Before worship begins, leaders may take a few moments to introduce and teach new music in order to encourage the participation of the whole assembly. If a Thanksgiving for Baptism begins the service, local bodies of water may be named in the prayer of thanksgiving, intentionally connecting worship to the local geography and community. Processions may include children or adults carrying ribbons in colors appropriate to the liturgical season as a way to include all generations in worship leadership.
Invitation, welcoming and inclusiveness continue throughout the entire worship service. What are the clues within the worship service that every member of the assembly is welcome, needed and included in active participation in the worship service? Is there a welcoming option for families with children who need a break from worship? Are worship leaders mindful of the ways that children actively participate? How is the Lord’s invitation to Holy Communion communicated? Is the method for receiving the meal clearly articulated and easily accessible to all?
The sending time
The sending time continues God’s invitation, welcome and inclusiveness. How is it clear in the worship that the sacramental meal is for the sake of the whole world, not just individuals or a particular congregation?
The sending time of worship may include announcements about the mission activities of the congregation given in a way that connects worship with that mission and invites the participation of the community.
Is the gathering of the offering connected to sending the assembly out for God’s saving mission in the world? The gifts gathered by the assembly at the time of the offering might physically lead the congregation out into the world during the final hymn or song.
The sending and dismissal from the worship service begins the gathering again. We are sent out to participate in God’s mission in the world, to process through the world and be gathered again in a Christian assembly.