On July 1st 2015 Methodist conference will discuss a report entitled Holy Communion Mediated through Social Media which was set up to address the following.
To reflect on the issues regarding the suggested practice of celebrating Holy Communion with dispersed communities via live, interactive media such as the internet or videoconferencing.
The key recommendation of the report is that the conference does not give permission to allow presbyters (ministers for non-Methodists) and others who can preside at communion to do so over electronic forms of communication (periscope, twitter, Facebook, etc)
I have been mulling this over since the report came out and have a number of thoughts and feelings on the matter that I wanted to share here. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the matter but I feel I have something to add to the conversation that others are having elsewhere and at the bottom you will find links to some of those articles.
What does it mean to invite?
The recommendation prohibits those who preside from inviting others who are not ‘physically’ present to take part in the bread and wine. Yet the words of invitation in any communion service do exactly that.
Draw near with faith.
Surely these words when heard in the room or via a live stream or twitter feed invite the person who hears/reads to do exactly that. In my mind we have a number of choices if we are to prohibit those who preside from inviting others to join in through electronic communication of some form.
1. Ban all electronic transmission of the communion service. No live streams, no recordings of services, no tweets or status updates. Why? because if someone hears the words ‘draw near with faith’ and decides that they want to do just that and share in bread and wine where they are then we have invited them to do so.
2. Add to the liturgy. If we aren’t going to ban electronic communication then we need to change the liturgy to makes sure we are only inviting certain people. Draw near with faith… unless you are listening to this as a recording, watching via a live stream or reading/listening on other forms of electronic communication. Catchy
3. Keep things the same but risk people taking the words seriously. We invite people to ‘draw near with faith’ and we record the service for our house bound members, or live stream it and let the people engage as they wish.
When is Holy Communion, Holy Communion?
Here are a few examples that sprung to mind when pondering all of this. Some I have experienced as a recipient, others as the one presiding and others are possibilities that may or may not be true.
During the distribution of communion it was realised not enough wine had been put out so more was fetched from the supplies. It was never part of that which was prayed over in the liturgy it was just added to the empty cups and shared out.
Having prayed over the elements the minster broke the bread and saw it was mouldy inside. More bread was bought from the shop next door and used in the service. The prayers were never prayed again but the bread and wine was shared out.
An elderly and long serving member of the church receives recordings of every service. They receive home communion but they also share in bread and wine when they listen to a recorded communion service because ‘it makes them feel apart of the church in a very real way’.
The children are never in for the beginning of the communion liturgy as they are doing there activities. They are brought in at the very end to receive the bread and wine but never hear any of the words or the invitation.
A person has low immunity and doesn’t like to eat the bread broken off by someone else. They bring there own and eat it at the appropriate time. If they didn’t do this they would not take communion.
A lay person who during meals with friends would prayer over bread and wine, remember what Jesus did, prayed the for the Spirits presence and then shared it with those there.
All of these stories pose questions about how Holy Communion is celebrated. When are the elements blessed or not blessed? Do you need to hear the words to receive communion? What makes it ‘real’? I am sure some people would want to take some of these examples and declare that it wasn’t communion they were sharing in. That then raises the question who decides what is and what isn’t?
We may ultimately say it’s God who decides what he choses to bless and what he doesn’t, what is right practice and what isn’t.
After that it has to be the person who receives it.
Surely it is the one who draws near in faith that decides if what they are doing is linked to the Lord’s supper or not. The church and those in power may want to tell them it is or isn’t ‘proper’ but I am not convinced that makes a lot of difference when someone truly draws near.
Finally, I read some of the 2003 report to conference His Presence Makes the Feast and came across this.
The report proceeds from the observation that for Methodists, theology often arises from reflection on practice rather than beginning with ‘abstract’ theories. John Wesley’s method of ‘practical theology’ is still central to Methodism, which is at heart a method of responding to God’s gracious offer of salvation and holiness. In order to know what Methodists believe it is necessary to look at what they do, for they are truest to themselves when they express, transmit and modify their beliefs in the context of the worshipping, learning, serving and witnessing life of the faith community – in the Church and in the wider world. (14)
The report to conference seems to stand opposed to this in that it seeks to stop Methodists from reflecting on practice by not allowing the practice and therefore not allowing us to be true to ourselves by expressing, transmitting and modifying our beliefs in the context of a worshipping, learning, serving and witnessing life of a faith community in the church and world.
Some articles from Pete Phillips :
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