Communion Services In The Nursing Home

During Holy Week services prior to Easter, I lead a Lord’s Supper Communion Service in the nursing home. During staff training, I have identified the residents who should or should not participate, due to physical limitations.

Prior to the service, the daughter of one of our residents came and asked if her mother, Bea, could partake. This is a resident who did not seem to have much comprehension and could not answer any questions or hold a conversation. She had not talked in months and just stared into space. I shared with the daughter that helping her mother partake of the cup and bread might be meaningful to her. When one of our volunteers walked past Bea with the cup and bread, she reached out for the bread. She took it in her hand, focused on it, and examined it. She then took of both the cup and bread and said,

 “Oh, I am so glad they are letting me take the Lord’s Supper. It has been eight years since I have gone to my church and have partaken in the supper. And oh, how this brings back memories of childhood taking the supper in a country church. Oh, thank you for letting me do this. It means so much to me. I am thankful for what Jesus has done for me on the cross.”

Her daughter said that for three days after the service, Bea talked about partaking of the Lord’s Supper. She died less than a week later. Seeing and touching the bread, and taking of the cup, helped orient her to reality. It caused her to reflect back on her life and allowed both Bea and her daughter to have very meaningful last days. Let us not underestimate the power of remembering our Lord Jesus in Communion. Communion has no magical power, but here is power in the presence of the Lord.

~ Chaplain Chris Finley, Oklahoma Baptist Homes

Many residents desire to receive Holy Communion. In Deuteronomy 16:10-14, God makes special provisions to include the widow in the covenant life of His people. Widows are to rejoice at the feasts of God with His people in community. These verses have implications for the presence of widows (and elderly) at the Lord’s Supper, the New Testament feast of God.

Residents are often overlooked in this area of the church’s spiritual life. Perhaps a way to overcome this is to work with the Activities Director and ask residents to indicate their desire to receive communion. Offer to help arrange for their Pastor or lay minister to come on a scheduled basis to serve. If possible, you may want to accompany the minister to provide a link to your group services in the home.

In some cases, clergy may not be available. You may instead choose to hold a communion service yourself. Since there are many theological and denominational differences and concerns regarding the meaning and method of sharing Holy Communion, it is important to reconcile these by prayerfully reading the Scriptures and seeking your pastor’s counsel. Understanding the perspectives from other churches represented in the home can help you be sensitive to all.

If you are unable to resolve your own concerns, we would suggest you do not hold communion services. If you choose to, however, the following guidelines may help:

It is important to work out a dignified and comfortable routine so the service is free from awkward mistakes or violations of Biblical and traditional practices. A service structure could be as follows:

  • Opening prayer
  • A few songs of worship
  • A Scripture reading
  • A brief devotional
  • Presenting the Bread and Wine (grape juice is generally used and very thin communion wafers that dissolve in the mouth can help prevent any choking)
  • General instructions about communion
  • Distribution of the elements to each resident while the rest are being led in songs of worship and praise. This can take time if there are many residents who need help; please don’t rush
  • After all are served, a closing Scripture and/or song
  • Benediction

Other points:

  • There are some concerns about residents choking on the bread or wafer. Some ministers dip the bread in the cup and place the juice-soaked bread carefully into the resident’s mouth without touching them. Have a napkin handy in case of any spills.
  • Some denominations allow only the Pastor to serve Communion. This could be a good opportunity to invite him occasionally to share in your nursing home outreach. It will bless him and the residents.
  • Communion is for all Christians, but some do not have peace about receiving it from a minister of a different denomination or a layperson. Inform the residents that all Christians are welcome to receive, in remembrance of Jesus. However, if for any reasons they do not want to, they many indicate by saying, “No, thank you,” when you or the minister pass by. Do not make residents feel uncomfortable when they decline.

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