Dear Brothers in the Office of the Holy Ministry,
Nearly all of our brothers in Office are trying to figure out how to get Word and Sacrament to God’s people in very trying times with very little, if any, experience in these sorts of situations and not much in the way of historic precedent. There are some weird ideas out there. We do better if we keep talking together than if we each go off on our own.
I don’t know what any of you has been thinking and I don’t think any of you have done this, but it might be tempting to you. It seems to have happened in some quarter, so just to be clear Michael and I thought it would be worth sending a note. For our part, we do not think it is appropriate for anyone, ordained or not, to offer the Sacrament of the Altar to his family, as his family, and apart from the Public Ministry of the Church outside of a deathbed situation isolated from the entire world, like the two guys in Augustine’s boat. We are not saying that such a celebration would not necessarily be effectual but that it would be inappropriate. Our understanding is that ordination, of itself, does not give jurisdiction but that it gives ability to receive jurisdiction. Thus, having been ordained, you can be called to teach at the seminary and given certain jurisdiction there or you can be called to be a parish pastor or a district president or a mission exec, etc. Whereas in our denomination, a non-ordained man could not be called to those positions and given jurisdiction.
Of course, this gets fuzzy when you move outside of the parish, but we do it all the time and it doesn’t bother me. I am fine with the Seminary offering the Sacrament as an institution of the Church. But I am not fine with President Larry Rast deciding to have a private communion with his wife at their kitchen table by themselves just because he is the president. Of course, he did no such thing, I only use that as an example! I just mean that President Rast’s authority to authorize communion for the community belongs, in a sense, to the community that he serves and not to his person. It is the same for us. I think it would be inappropriate for me or Michael or any of us ordained clergy to have private communions based on our ordinations just for our immediate families. When we take communion to the shut-ins and sick, we do so as an extension of the congregation’s public ministry and not because of our own personal authority or compassion.
I realize this is complicated, but I hope it makes sense and gives no offense.
That being said, Michael and I are quite happy in these trying times to extend jurisdiction and enlist your help in the public ministry of Redeemer Lutheran Church. We will work through our board of elders for approval to do this. These services will be public, congregational services. If you’re willing to come to the church and celebrate for a group of nine or to host a small group (no more than 9 or so) in your home or to go to one of our parishioner’s homes for such a service, we would be glad to help you do that and would also greatly appreciate it. Even though we seem to be living in crazy times, we will desire to do things in good order, with reverence, and in a coordinated fashion. If you would like to help in this way and haven’t already talked to us, please let us know.
BTW – as I write this the governor of Indiana is ordering us to “hunker down.” But a few minutes ago, he exempted churches and houses of worship and defined those as essential, second only to medical care. So it looks like our current plan of 2 services a day with no more than 10 people in the building at one time (families 6 feet apart), and all of our other procedures (disinfecting all the hymnals and pews each time, etc.) will not be challenged in any way by the government. If you all haven’t signed up for the news notifications or looked at the news page for Redeemer, I urge you do so. We will keep the latest information up to date there. https://redeemer-fortwayne.org/news/
Yours in Christ,