Taking a short break from the studies in Matthew to answer a few reader questions…
I have a couple of somewhat related questions from two different readers: (1) how did church ushers get started? and (2) how did home communions get started? The questions are somewhat related because both have to do with servant ministries within the church, and in many churches both can be performed by laypeople.
Church ushering has a long, venerable history that begins with the Doorkeepers (or Gatekeepers) of the Old Testament tabernacle. In New Testament times the history is not as clear, but it is possible the first Deacons assisted with doorkeeping in addition to waiting tables at church gatherings.
In modern times church ushers are usually not ordained, although they are frequently chosen from among members of the church’s governing bodies. They have a front-line responsibility in representing the church, welcoming visitors, helping guide people to appropriate seating, handing out bulletins and other printed material, and helping collect the offerings.
Home Communions also have a long history, going back to the earliest Christians. In the early church it was the duty of Deacons to carry some of the communion bread and wine from the Lord’s Table to those members of the church who were sick or dying, so they could be included in the ‘body of Christ’, the company of the faithful.
In medieval times a great deal of pageantry and superstition grew up around home communions, and for that reason Protestant Reformers sometimes rejected the practice. Protestants also warned against the practice of “Private Communions” — communion for just one individual or just one family, usually held in the family home — which had become a common practice among the wealthy. The Reformers felt the practice was against Scripture, which taught communion by definition was meant to be ‘communal’ — a meal shared by the entire church family. Eventually most Protestant churches came to see a difference between ‘private communion’ and bringing the elements to the sick and shut-ins. Calvin also reasoned that home communion brought consolation and nourishment to those who, through no fault of their own, were not able to receive the sacrament in church.
Today each church and denomination have different practices and regulations concerning home communion. Some require the presence of ordained clergy; some permit church elders or deacons to take elements from the Lord’s Table after communion and bring them to the sick; but most churches have some form of home communion available to church members who request it.