This 11-minute YouTube video can lead you through providing communion to elders in your care. It’s designed especially for seniors, including those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, who may not be able to get out to their regular place of worship and who have no visiting clergy available to administer communion.
If you use this communion video, please read the important description below the actual YouTube video first.
If you’re a staff or volunteer planning to serve communion to elders, be sure to ask the staff whether anyone has a gluten or swallowing issue that would make the communion elements a problem. (Possible solutions include using gluten-free bread or crackers, and/or dissolving crumbs into juice.)
In the communion video itself, I offer:
- A short explanation of Christian communion.
- A reassurance about receiving or not receiving communion.
- The traditional words of institution from 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26 (“On the night he was betrayed, Jesus took bread…”).
- A short prayer to bless the elements.
- It ends with four hymns for congregational singing, starting with “Let Us Break Bread Together,” during which server(s) can pass the elements.
Why I offer Communion
Communion is a deeply sacred ritual for Christians of all denominations. I grew up Catholic, and from that heritage I retain a profound respect for and attitude toward The Lord’s Supper, often called the Eucharist in Catholic, Anglican, and Episcopalian circles.
When I became a licensed chaplain serving in eldercare and memory-care communities, I soon realized that most people had no way to celebrate communion if they were no longer able to get out to their traditional place of worship. (I’m grateful that many Catholic parishes send people to senior communities to offer the Eucharist to Catholic residents.)
So once a month I included communion as part of my regular weekly church service. Immediately, I saw the positive spiritual impact. Communion is one of those rituals that’s hard-wired into long-term memory, so even those with advanced dementia loved it.
How I Offer Communion
As you’ll see in the communion video, before the words of institution I always say that anyone who wishes to express their union with Christ and the church is welcome to receive communion, but that it is not required — anyone is free to decline the elements for any reason.
When I’m providing communion “live,” I go around the room with the plate of bread (I ask a staff person to follow me, and that person carries the cup tray.) I ask every single person, one at a time, “Would you like to receive communion today?” And I get one of three responses:
- Response 1: “Yes please.” To this, I say, “The body of Christ, broken for you,” and then “the blood of Christ, shed for you.” They know exactly what to do (either open their mouth or their hands to receive the bread, and then take the cup).
- Response 2: “No, thank you.” To this, I say, “that’s fine; thank you,” and move on to the next person.
- Response 3: “What is it?” To this, I say, “This is communion. Would you like to receive it?” If they ask again, or simply look unsure, I simplify further by showing them the little piece of bread and saying something like, “This is a symbol of Jesus. You can eat it if you want to, but you don’t have to. Would you like to?” Usually people say yes to eating the bread, but I never push.
The cup can be a bit tricky. I use cranberry juice, which is always available in senior residences. Some people are able to hold the little cup, others need a little help getting it to their lips. If needed, I help, slowly and gently. Usually they love the juice because it’s sweet 🙂
Every single time, some elders weep with gratitude, and many say something like “thank you so much; bless you; I’ve missed this.”
This takes time! But communion is a sacred space, so don’t rush. While distributing the elements, I play hymn recordings in the background for the entire time so people have something to listen to.
Why I created a Communion Video
Once covid-19 lockdowns went into effect, I talked to friends and other ministers about whether, and how, I could offer this incredibly important service via video. With their encouragement and help with wording, I came up with this approach.
So please feel free to use this video, whether or not you’re a “professional” minister, to provide communion to those in your care. And please leave me any feedback or suggestions in the comments below.