(RNS) A four-year study on Holy Communion will likely recommend that United Methodist churches celebrate the sacrament on a weekly basis to help move the church toward a "richer sacramental life."

That initial finding comes from a 20-member panel which was chargedin 2000 with developing a theological understanding of communion andfinding ways to incorporate the ritual more deeply into church life.Currently some churches celebrate communion once a month or less.

The panel held a hearing in Seattle Jan. 26-28 and approved aworking draft that calls for a more regular observance of the Eucharist.A final report will be issued in 2004 at the church's quadrennialGeneral Conference meeting in Pittsburgh.

"The Holy Communion study affirms the value of the United MethodistChurch moving towards a richer sacramental life, including weeklycelebration of the Lord's Supper as advocated by the general orders ofSunday worship in our United Methodist hymnals and book of worship," thedraft statement said, according to United Methodist News Service.

However, the group will not seek to enforce the guidelines with anysort of legislation, and the issue will be left for individualcongregations to decide. Still, church leaders said parishioners shouldbegin to think about a more regular observance of communion. "I think if the committee is supportive and committed to such anaffirmation, it needs to say so early in the process, so people havetime to have their first reactions and live with it for a while," saidthe Rev. Bruce Robbins, head of the church's ecumenical office, which isparticipating in the study.

The communion study follows a similar report on the church's othersacrament, baptism. The panel will consider other issues, including whois authorized to preside over communion, which elements are mostappropriate, who can receive communion and how to dispose of theleftover elements. The committee will also tackle the thorny theologicalquestion of whether the "real presence" of Jesus is found in theEucharist, or whether the rite is more a memorial or commemoration ofthe Last Supper and death of Jesus.

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