That initial finding comes from a 20-member panel which was charged in 2000 with developing a theological understanding of communion and finding 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 a working draft that calls for a more regular observance of the Eucharist. A final report will be issued in 2004 at the church's quadrennial General Conference meeting in Pittsburgh.
"The Holy Communion study affirms the value of the United Methodist Church moving towards a richer sacramental life, including weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper as advocated by the general orders of Sunday worship in our United Methodist hymnals and book of worship," the draft statement said, according to United Methodist News Service.
However, the group will not seek to enforce the guidelines with any sort of legislation, and the issue will be left for individual congregations to decide. Still, church leaders said parishioners should begin to think about a more regular observance of communion. "I think if the committee is supportive and committed to such an affirmation, it needs to say so early in the process, so people have time to have their first reactions and live with it for a while," said the Rev. Bruce Robbins, head of the church's ecumenical office, which is participating in the study.
The communion study follows a similar report on the church's other sacrament, baptism. The panel will consider other issues, including who is authorized to preside over communion, which elements are most appropriate, who can receive communion and how to dispose of the leftover elements. The committee will also tackle the thorny theological question of whether the "real presence" of Jesus is found in the Eucharist, or whether the rite is more a memorial or commemoration of the Last Supper and death of Jesus.