Rev. Neal: We need clarity regarding the Sacrament of Holy Communion in the United Methodist Church. If a Local Part-time Pastor is going to be away can he /she consecrate the elements before leaving and let the Lay Leader and Lay Servants serve the meal to the congregation on the following Sunday? If yes, how far in advance can this consecration take place? Also: can the elements be taken to a nearby Full-time UM Elder to be consecrated and then served to the congregation by the Laity? Can the elements be consecrated over the phone? If no to any or all of the above, when did the current rules become effective? Are these rules by action of the General Conference or the Judicial Council? Thanks for answering all of these questions!
1. The Communion elements may NOT be pre-consecrated by a LLP or Elder for later reception when they are away.
2. The Communion elements may NOT be taken to an Elder, elsewhere, for consecration so that they may then be served at church by the laity.
3. The Communion elements should NOT be consecrated over the phone by an Elder at some distance.
1 and 2 were firmly established by the General Conference of The United Methodist Church in 2004 when it approved its official statement: This Holy Mystery - A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion. This has been re-approved and is still the official position of the General Conference of the UMC on the theology and practice of Holy Communion. You may find it, free of charge, in pdf format on the Internet here (as of 08/31/2015 - http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/this-holy-mystery
Specifically, see pp. 31-32, where it says:
"The practice of consecrating elements ahead of time for the convenience of the pastor not having to go to small or remote congregations, weekend camps, or other such occasions is inappropriate and contrary to our historic doctrine and understanding of how Godís grace is made available in the sacrament (Article XVIII, The Articles of Religion, BOD; page 64). If authorized leadership is not available for celebrating the Lordís Supper, other worship services such as love feasts, agape meals, or baptismal reaffirmations are valid alternatives that avoid the misuse of Communion elements.
The consecrated elements of bread and wine are used for distribution to the sick and others who wish to commune but are unable to attend congregational worship. If any bread and wine remain, they should always be disposed of by (1) the pastor and/or others at the pastorís direction consuming them in a reverent manner following the service; (2) returning them to the earth by pouring (2 Samuel 23:16), burying, scattering, or burning."
Regarding the 3rd statement, this is the interpretation of the Council of Bishops after a request was made of them, in 2013, to order a moratorium on long-distance (i.e. internet) consecrations of the elements (and, hence, would apply for radio, TV, or telephone transmitted consecrations as well). The Judicial council has not ruled on this moratorium (I don't think it has been challenged by anybody, and I'm certain no charges have ever been brought against clergy for presiding at-a-distance ... though I'm sure a few would have liked to have done so against a few of us who have presided at communion over the internet in the past). While I was part of the Consultation Group with the Board of Discipleship which issued the request for a moratorium to the Bishops, and I am in favor of the it as a temporary measure present to a commissioned study on the use of the internet for mission and ministry, I am nevertheless not convinced that long-distance-consecration should be entirely forbidden or are ruled-out by our present theology.
I recommend that you download a copy of "This Holy Mystery" and read it in its entirety. It will bring significant clarity to these, and other, issues. I also suggest that, rather than attempting long-distance consecration or the use of elements in a form of a reserved-sacrament consecration, you either reschedule the date(s) for Communion so that your appointed pastor may be present to preside, OR you obtain retired Elders to come in and preside at the Eucharist in the appointed pastor's absence. I know this seems to be less-than ideal, but it is the best practice given our theology and the officially affirmed positions of the General Conference of the UMC.
I hope this has been helpful. May God bless your congregation and our ministries together.