Sunday, May 31, 2020

A Pentecostal blessing ...

This is very good ... and (noting recent discussions here) ecumenical!

Four Images: A Meditation for Pentecost

Monday, May 25, 2020

Have Kiwi church leaders been too deferential to the NZ govt?

A Twitter buddy has fairly regularly been posing the question, Why have church leaders been so deferential to the government imposing restrictions on churches during our period of Lockdown?

Alongside news of church leaders in conflict with authorities in countries such as the USA and Britain (which includes CofE vicars in conflict with their bishops over churches being shut up), NZ church leaders have had an interesting couple of months in Lockdown (to speak generally at this point).

In Level 4 when the whole country was locked down the issues were whether clergy should have been deemed "essential workers" and why could not clergy be permitted to pray with those who were dying and to take funerals. Were church leaders too deferential to the government?

In Level 3, when funerals and weddings for up to 10 people were permitted, Were church leaders too deferential to the government about that limit on funerals? (Funerals for the most part much more difficult to postpone than weddings.)

In (the current state of) Level 2, where we may hold church services for 10 or fewer people (and, under certain conditions, funerals for 50 or fewer people) while various commercial enterprises involving people socialising (from bars to brothels, though the better comparison with churches might be schools) may entertain higher numbers, Are church leaders being too deferential to the government?

[Note in passing: yesterday I was interviewed about the limits, along with Paul Martin, Catholic Bishop of Christchurch, see here. See also this Taonga article.]

Today (Monday 25 May 2020), when we expect the government to announce a raising of the limit on gatherings including religious services (but with a strong hint to date that it might be as low as a rise to 20 or fewer persons), Will church leaders be too deferential to the government?

Speaking quite personally, I feel somewhat goaded by the question of deferentiality.

After all, what is leadership if it lacks boldness and bravery, refrains from speaking truth to power and so forth? Am I and colleagues somewhat "wet" in the face of this (at worst) trampling on the rights of churches to worship freely or (at best) seeming ignorant sidelining of the church by a government that appears not to understand churches? (After all, for all of us inspired by the Barths and Bonhoeffers of 1930s Germany, the true test of leadership, surely, is to NOT be deferential to a government imposing control on the churches!)

I also find my goaded self being a bit defensive. I have an explanation, a justification for this seeming "deferentiality". Would you like to hear it? (Well, you are reading this post!).

However, I recognise that, whatever I say here, future historians might adjudicate that we have been too deferential. So, it maybe that I and others are guilty as charged.

But, for what it is worth, and may a future historian please read this before making their adjudication, here are some thoughts.

(1) In Lockdown, we have never been in Nazi German or Stalinist Russia or any other kind of anti-Christian dictatorship. We have been in a global Pandemic, guided by epidemiologists as to the best way to combat transmission and our government's Minister of Health is a Christian and our Director-General of Health is a Christian. In general terms, deferentiality by everyone, including church leaders, has been deferentiality to a common national cause. This period has been about working with the government for the common good. This has not been a period to be anxious about "Bill of Rights" freedoms to exercise the practice of our faith etc.

(2) There have been very good reasons for some restrictions placed on Christian ministry. For example, to have been granted the right (in the first weeks at least) to minister to dying people would have been to also require PPE gear to be appropriately protected when making that pastoral call. But the reasonable priority was for doctors and nurses to have that equipment. (Nevertheless, I would acknowledge, and future historians may argue that after those first few weeks, the government and health boards could have changed the restrictions once PPE supplies improved.)

(3) Actually, anecdotally, some church leaders have wanted to be less deferential than they have appeared to be but, it turns out, their congregations have not shared their enthusiasm. Christians are human beings and as human beings they can read news reports about the spread of the virus and the importance of strict control of how we engage with other human beings to prevent spread. Effectively it appears that many church leaders’ deferentiality to the government has been deepened rather than weakened by their congregations.

(4) Ultimately, our deferentiality has been to the virus! If COVID-19 has taught humanity anything, it is that it demands respect. Disrespect this virus at your personal peril. The tragic narrative of the past few months includes many stories of churches around the world meeting in defiance of the virus only to have church members (and leaders!) catch the virus, sometimes leading to death. If Kiwi Christians have the good sense to show deferentiality to the virus, why would church leaders differ from their good sense?

(5) Nevertheless, a sharp question arises when we ask about some aspects of the Lockdown restrictions.

Should church leaders, for example, have been much more aggressive in response to perceived contradictions between the Level 2 restriction to 10 or fewer people being able to meet in church and many more being able to meet in restaurants and conferences?

Should we have made a stronger case for our ability to create and implement restrictive conditions in order that any gatherings would conform to the kinds of conditions that businesses and schools are being made to follow?

(6) Then, there are the counter questions. Currently, as I write, there are some colleagues drawing attention to this news item, out of Germany, in which 40 people, gathering for worship after their churches have re-opened, have contracted the virus. Shouldn't church leaders back off any pressure on the government for churches to re-open, be patient, and wait for the government to exercise its scientifically informed wisdom? On this line of thinking, deferentiality, contra my Twitter buddy, is a very good thing!

For what it is worth, I think some care is needed with the German news story. First, this is an outbreak after permission had been given, not when a church completely lost deferentiality and defied the German government by holding a service. Secondly, we are not Germany, by which I mean that we have a remarkable situation in which there has been no case of community transmission of the virus for several weeks. The very few cases now appearing are all (I repeat, all) related to known clusters. That is, the risk of an outbreak in a re-opened NZ church is effectively zero.

That is enough - let's see what the government says later today.

Update: our government has lifted the limit on gatherings including church services from 10 to 100 while we are in Level 2. And we might be out of that Level into Level 1 before many weeks pass.

Monday, May 18, 2020

If Jesus presides at the meal, can baptised followers be excluded?

So, a couple of weeks ago, a focus on the current Pandemic phenomenon of online eucharists.

This week, still with Eucharistic questions, but much longer standing ones.

Thomas O’Loughlin is professor of historical theology at the University of Nottingham, UK and (relevant knowledge here) a Catholic.

Recently he wrote Eating Together Becoming One: Taking Up Pope Francis’s Call to Theologians (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press Academic, 2019. I can't remember who brought it to my attention first, but it may have been Bosco Peters here.

His thesis is this: the Catholic church should stop excluding baptised (non-Catholic) Christians from sharing in the Mass.

The provocation for writing was something Pope Francis said in November 2015 when a woman, Anke de Bernardinis, in a Lutheran Church he was visiting in Germany - as part of the 500 years anniversary of Luther's publication of the 95 theses - asked him about inter-communion in the context of a marriage of a Catholic (her husband) and a non-Catholic (herself). (Somewhat cleverly) Pope Francis said that this was something for the theologians to deal with.

A critical part of what he said was this (cited by O'Loughlin, p. 16):

"Instead on the journey, I wonder - and I don't know how to answer, but I make your question my own - I wonder: Is the sharing of the Lord's Supper the end of a journey or the viaticum [food for the journey] to journey together? I leave the question to the theologians, to those who understand."

Note that Francis is not attending to what the theologians have generally said about the rules of the Mass, the reasons why Catholics can communicate and non-Catholics cannot, and so forth. He is posing a new challenge to Catholic theologians - yes to other theologians but the nature of this question is that Catholic theologians' answers are the ones that will shift the weight of Catholic opinion. That new challenge is whether the Lord's Supper or Mass is being correctly understood in respect of discipleship - in other words,

"an invitation to Catholics to imagine the eucharist in a rather unfamiliar way. The key question is now: How would intercommunion help all of us as we live our lives?" (p.17)

So what O'Loughlin sets out to do is to answer the Pope's question and he doesn't see many other writings yet on the matter.

The edge to his discussion is that Anke de Bernardinis question is a real question of practical import in many families lives (to say nothing of, e.g., ecumenical relationships between churches so we can always sing Evensong together but never break bread together). It would be really good to have a change on this matter which normally - on the basis of what established practice governed by rules permits/prohibits - is shut down pretty quickly whenever intercommunion is raised.

The essential argument O'Loughlin mounts - each chapter taking up a different angle on the argument - is that it is against one of the most widely shared rules of humanity to have people in one's house when a meal is being served and denying some from sharing it. (And, conversely, for a Catholic in a non-Catholic church to refuse to partake in the meal offered there is also an infringement of this rule.) That is, "The Grammar of Meals" (Chapter 2) means,

"If I am the presider, and so acting as the host at the table, then I must make everyone present welcome and ensure that those who might see themselves as strangers or visitors know that this is a place of human sharing. Good human manners means that I must assume everyone present will want to eat and drink at the table. I have not spotted them coming into the meal, so now, by virtue of the grammar of meals, I cannot refuse to let them eat. If I am one of those at the meal and see it as a meal of my church, then I should be watchful for the guests and help them feel welcome." (29)

Of course, attractive though the core argument is, and challenging too (effectively he is saying Catholics should be embarrassed by this exclusionary approach), O'Loughlin really needs to deal with some standard reasoning for exclusion of non-Catholics at the Lord's Table. This he does. But does he do it effectively?

In my experience the main "standard" re reasons for exclusion is that a non-Catholic going forward to receive might not believe what Catholics believe about the eucharist. O'Loughlin makes a great case for pointing out that (i) Catholic priests do not actually quiz every Catholic communicant as to what they believe about the eucharist (and if they did they might get a surprise at the diversity of belief) and (ii) even Catholics do not keep up with the ever changing subtleties of Catholic theology through the centuries. Nevertheless I think this is a weak point in the series of arguments because the reality (it seems to me) is that if perchance there were doctrinal examination at the door of the church before Mass, then pretty quickly doctrinal uniformity would be achieved: it is not as though Catholics are averse to following a prescribed line, witness following recent changes to the creed. (That Catholics might not follow a prescribed line on, say, contraception is not - in my experience of Catholicism - any kind of evidence that doctrinal lines on creedal and liturgical matters would not be uniformly followed).

Much stronger is O'Loughlin's finish to this particular chapter where he makes the necessary point that doctrinal differences (say, between presiding priest and visiting non-Catholic) should not constrain eucharistic hospitality:

"Paul studied the activity in Corinth and then drew out the significance of what they were actually doing, compared it with their vision of who they were as disciples, and then instructed them to do it properly. Paul reformed not their doctrine but their practice. The core of the paradosis is the bodily memory of what we do together, not what we declare to be what we deem to be the best explication of what we do (doctrine). It is always worth recalling that the words we so venerate liturgically from the gospels regarding the eucharist are a command, in the plural, to do something: touto poeite (Luke 22:19); and it is followed by a second command to action: phagete (Matt 26:26). It is not a command to believe this oo have this or  hold this or look upon this." It is sobering to notice that Paul does not see the proclamation of the mystery of faith as a matter of words, as often in contemporary Catholic liturgy, but in the activity of eating and drinking together: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes (1 Cor 11:26)."

On this count, it is the eating and drinking together, rather than the doctrine to which any of the participants subscribe, that constitutes the reality of the mystery. This experience can then be examined for its meaning for the individuals and the group, and its implicit theology explored. Therefore, assuming that someone is willing to eat and drink at a Catholic celebration of the eucharist, is there any basis for excluding them because of difference in doctrine?" (pp. 138-139)

There is much, much more to the book than these few observations and citations. For example, and "of course," he reflects on the meaning of being baptised Christians willing to meet together. And, it is not a long book, 157 pages plus bibliography and indices.

In the end - and I know I am biased towards O'Loughlin's thesis - I like his argument and supporting arguments very much. I am convinced by them but I don't need much convincing and, to coin a phrase (not), it is not me he needs to convince!

Postscript: I could not help but do some reflecting while reading this book on the question of "Zoom eucharists." On the one hand, O'Loughlin implicitly mounts a strong case for my principal affirmation of meeting together physically for eucharist: it is a meal! On the other hand, to specify that the eucharist is a meal (with a grammar re hospitality and a case that the "doing" of the meal is more important than the "believing" about the meaning of the meal) is a form of doctrine. This is borne out by those of us who do not think "Zoom eucharists" can be an endorsed eucharist of the church: we could not teach that this can be so. In other words, there are doctrinal minima for even the most open of eucharists to occur and these minima, ironically at this time in history, preclude some forms of eucharist.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

"Ten" was once the name of a movie aspiring pastors didn't admit to watching

Many decades ago, when I was much, much younger, there was a movie made called "Ten" (or was it "10"?) which went something like "perfect woman" (Bo Derek) encounters "funny guy" (Dudley Moore, I recall) and ups and downs of romance happens and, I can't now recall what, there was an ending. Being a romantic comedy I'll supply this as the ending: happy! I guess this movie was made towards the end of an era when one could make mainstream movies that objectified women by giving them a mark out of ten for bodily appearance.

Anyway, fast forward to last Monday and "ten" or "10" has another meaning entirely for New Zealand and for our churches.

When announcing that NZ would move from Level 3 to Level 2 (tomorrow), PM Jacinda Ardern announced that no gatherings larger than ten people could be held: inside or outside a family home, inside or outside any other venue (such as a church), etc with exceptions being schools, workplaces, restaurants/cafes and (from Thursday next week) bars. This policy will be reviewed in two weeks time.

So, effectively, two more Sundays (minimum) of online worship.

Now, this was a surprise because as recently as the Thursday before the Monday announcement, it had been announced that the restriction re gatherings would be one hundred (100).

Quite a surprise and quite a challenge for those about to hold (say) a funeral. UPDATE: Since writing that sentence our government has, partly through the influence of church leadership, changed the limits on funerals to 50. But the post is mostly about ordinary church services.

But this announcement re "10" has turned out to be very interesting in terms of reactions and responses in the NZ Christian community.

Broadly speaking, my soundings and anecdata over the last few days - Anglican and non-Anglican conversations - suggest these reactions and responses within the NZ Christian community: in no particular order of strength of numerical support or any other measure:

- fury and fear that the government is running a now not so secret anti-Christian agenda;
- hand-wringing concern that the forces of secularization once again marginalise the church so that it is treated as though it barely exists and thus needs not to be consulted with;*
- anger that the church has been treated as a body which merely gathers to "socialise" rather than, first, to worship;*
- urgent invocation of the Bill of Rights in respect of freedom of religion which is now unnecessarily constrained;
- annoyance that the government has more faith in restaurants, bars etc to organise themselves to cater for 100 people than in churches (despite church leadership - including moi - putting hours of time into carefully worked out guidelines for worshipping safely;
- congratulations that the government understands only too well how slack many churches are about observing safe practice;
- acknowledgement that overseas some bad outbreaks of the virus have occurred when congregations gathered for worship and food and drink afterwards;*
- relief that we have at least two more weeks of being safe and/or gaining confidence to meet again with other people.

* = dispositions within myself!

And there seems some chance that the majority of Christians subscribe to the last point in the list above.

For some of us, that is surprising. But it is also the reality we work with through these next weeks in Level 2. I wonder if it reflects a simple physical reality that many of us are very tired.

But there is, I suggest, a number of matters to reflect on and to discuss - when we get the chance - about the character of ourselves as church - in relation to society, to the state, to challenges when they come in respect of disasters and the consequential shift in power dynamics in a nation.

Some final thoughts for this post.

1. Noting my update above re funerals. Actually, yesterday, a significant meeting was held between government and church leaders. I think the church may feel marginalised but need not. (And we could cut the government some slack: this is an extraordinary time and there are many voices trying to get inside their heads).

2. We are living through a disaster. Dynamics have changed in this nation - at least for the duration. Simple analyses focusing on (say) freedom to exercise religion may overlook an even more basic analysis: we are in a life and death crisis.

Just because the church has the freedom to baptise people in our rivers doesn't mean our rights have been curtailed if the police tell us not to baptise when the river is in flood!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Online worship: The Presence and Future of Zoom Eucharists?


For further examination of "Zoom Eucharists" (by which I mean, in this post, eucharistic services conducted online by a priest who presides over communion in his or her own home but congregants in their own homes consume bread and wine they have with them), a starting point could be this Tweet:

To which I replied, having read a very thoughtful opinion-come-report-of-what-I-did in the Church Times (17 April 2020):

I found myself especially thoughtful about this comment in reply to Scott Gunn's Tweet:

Let's be honest: our questions about Zoom Eucharists are NOT questions about the power of God, the presence of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are sovereign and can do what They-as-One will, present everywhere and unconstrained by walls or wires. The comment above about the word of Jesus being effective in the healing of a servant in a different location to the centurion asking for the healing to occur makes that point. Our Eastertide celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a celebration of Christ's presence  EVERYWHERE in the world.

Nor, to deal with another matter, are our questions about Zoom Eucharists concerned with whether people experience such consumption as a profound experience of communion with God and with one another across time and space. Discussion on the matter is not a questioning of the felt experience in this time of crisis.

Finally, in this Introduction, an observation: the question of Zoom Eucharists is not in the same category as the proverbial,

Was it a valid communion when in a POW camp they only had rice and water; and there wasn't a priest? 

POW camps are not permanent human experiences (thankfully). Technology is here to stay. Our determinations re Zoom Eucharists are not only for the moment of the crisis in which Lockdown shuts us out of our churches. Our determinations are about a new permanent reality of ecclesiastical life: we can for all sorts of reasons, not only when in crisis of compulsory Lockdown, use technology to enable worship together. If a Zoom Eucharist is valid during Lockdown it is also valid when (e.g.) the Diocesan youth worker says to the Bishop, why don't we have a eucharist with all the youth across the Diocese via Zoom and save the planet by not using our cars to meet in one central location?

So what are the questions we could be exploring about Zoom Eucharists? (Spoiler alert: this post is mostly about the questions and will not presume to get to many of the answers!)


In no particular order of priority.

What is "consecration" in the age of online services?

What is a congregation in respect of gathering together via online means?

If we accept the possibilty of consecration over the internet, does it make a difference if the service offered has been prerecorded, or must it be "live"?

What values have we assumed to date about the materiality of Holy Communion? (Thinking of taking for granted that we gather in one physical space, with a priest materially present,* with a Table on which are placed the bread and wine which the congregation will consume).

[*Would we accept a priest (say, too ill to be in church), consecrating via a screen in the church with the congregation viewing her or him? Mostly, I would think not.]

May we now question those values?

Are there workarounds?

There is some talk here and there (and in comments to a recent post below) about things such as (to name two "popular" options):

- viewers in their own homes consume bread and wine during a Zoom Eucharist but with no pretence that this is "consecrated"; rather, the consuming is "in remembrance of Jesus' death" so, a "communion-like" moment within the whole Zoom eucharist.

- (with or without a vicar somewhere at the other end of the internet) a household bubble celebrate an "agape meal" in which bread is broken and consumed, wine is consumed and (say) 1 Corinthians 11 and relevant verses from John 6 are read out.

But do such workarounds work? Are they in danger of blurring the boundaries between what is and what is not a Communion service?

Finally, what is the nature of communion? Is it, for example, an offering or a meal? (See further below)


I want to be very careful - I am sure you do too - not to limit the power of God or to circumscribe the presence of Christ; and especially I do not want to contribute to notions that a priest or bishop has some kind of control over the power of God or the presence of Christ.

I think that means that consideration of Zoom eucharists as "valid" possibilties for the present and future church must be a consideration that is genuinely open to new insight in a new world made possible by new discoveries - insight into the character both of God and of God's commitment to be present to us through the materiality of the bread and wine of Communion in such a world.

If we are not genuinely open to such consideration, we should be honest and declare this to be so. (It is an honourable position and most Anglicans I see writing on social media hold to it!)

And, to be clear, to be open to such consideration is NOT to pre-determine the outcome of such enquiry.

The fact is, of course, that the signs through these weeks of global Lockdown are that there are fasting Anglicans (yearning for eucharist but content to wait patiently), frustrated Anglicans (genuinely unable to understand why Zoom eucharists cannot take place with pragmatic support from Anglican hierarchies) and pragmatically, progressive Anglicans (who have already determined that Zoom eucharists are fine - this appears to be a determination followed in some Sydney parishes and, no doubt, elsewhere). In sum, Anglicans are not agreed on the matter of Zoom eucharists.

That is not only understandable - we haven't exactly had a synod set up a commission to report back to a synod to ask the house of bishops to consider the matter who refer it to the wider Communion for comment ... etc - it is actually the big problem here!

My conviction about eucharistic ministry is that it proceeds from the common mind of the church which, in Anglican terms, means the common mind as agreed synodically. (Hopefully with due theological work beforehand).

Sure, there are different views about the eucharist in the churches of the Communion but each province has a prayer book (or two) and each has a common commitment to say this (or these) words and not those words when celebrating Communion. To say nothing of common commitments re priests or bishops as presiders (with, I think, one exception). That is, we share a commitment to the eucharist being thus and so rather than something else (even if the "thus and so" is layered with diverse understandings).

So, the big problem with Zoom Eucharists is not whether or not one can consecrate Communion by this means and the effectiveness "zoom" through space and time to each and every participating bubble (household) or similar questions (which are important questions to be worked through).

The big problem with Zoom Eucharists is what we will agree on.

Will it be our current agreement (which within ACANZP, and, for the most part, as far as I can see, in the AngComm is "No") or a new agreement?


(1) How do we respond to the immense value Anglicans place on the materiality of spirituality?

Whatever we make of Zoom Eucharists, Agape meals, they represent a strong desire for spiritual nurture through material means of consuming bread and wine. Whether for Pandemic or other reasons, when our present understanding of the eucharist means consumption is prohibited, is that the end of the road for the desire for more than "Spiritual Communion"?

(2) What is the nature of a eucharistic service?

Is it worship of God more than nurture of you and me? If so, we are "offering" something to God (Anglicans would carefully say, "a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving") and on such a theological understanding, what the priest does (with the people's support) is more important than what the people receive.

(Of course, in the internet age, these questions lead to other questions such as, In a global Lockdown, why is every priest making such an offering? Just one priest (Pope? Patriarch" ABC?) could offer on behalf of us all, tuning in around the world!)

(Incidentally, on an "offering" approach to eucharist, a prerecorded eucharist is, I suggest, fine: the offering has been made, perhaps two days before viewing, and the viewing then becomes an affirmation and appreciation for that offering being made.)

Or, (my own bias) is a eucharistic service a sacred meal which like all meals requires its participants to be in the same location as the food?

One of my appreciations during Lockdown has been the technology (Zoom, actually) which makes family get togethers possible. Especially good for a couple with four children living in cities not our own! But, much as I have appreciated these occasions, none has been the same as if our children were home and we make a meal together and consume it around one family table.

I actually have a similar appreciation for online worship: I have participated (or "participated") in some wonderful occasions over the past seven weeks. But at no point have I been tempted to think that this virtual approach is better than the "real presence" of being in each other's company as one congregation in one building.


We could observe an irony. Many discussions of eucharist, pre COVID-19, turn on questions of the "real presence" (or "real absence") of Christ, in/under the bread and the wine or sort of, somehow nearby. But, taking up an observation near the beginning of this post, discussion of Zoom Eucharist should not be anxious about the presence of Christ in many homes at once. The anxiety of such discussion is about the nature of the "presence" of the congregation!

UPDATE: For a very helpful post on an Agape Meal (as a legitimate means by which Christians at home (and via Zoom) might share food and drink with prayer, praise and proclamation, without recourse to a priest, head to Liturgy here.


Some posts - read by me, there are many other posts - on popular sites are worth drawing attention to re the online church in general and online eucharist in particular:

Ian Paul at Psephizo: here and here.

Bosco Peters at Liturgy: here (with links at the bottom of the post to four previous posts).

Doug Chaplin at Liturgica: here (especially raising the question of the eucharist as "offering").

Bowman Walton, here on ADU.

Also in the background to this post are various Twitter exchanges with @MalcolmFrench, @Liturgy, @TrevsDev.