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:
I can’t speak for the sacramental theology of other traditions, but in Anglican sacramental theology, consecrating bread and wine over the internet is not a thing send tweet— Scott Gunn ☮️ (@scottagunn) April 17, 2020
To which I replied, having read a very thoughtful opinion-come-report-of-what-I-did in the Church Times (17 April 2020):
@scottagunn This is thoughtful and, if I may say it, a reminder that not all Anglicans see the matter as clearly as you do in this particular time! https://t.co/MyXRdA1mRq— Peter Carrell ن (@petercarrell) April 17, 2020
I found myself especially thoughtful about this comment in reply to Scott Gunn's Tweet:
I’m kinda amused by the impact of all this remote hooey on our worship. There stands the centurion in Luke 7 “but say the word “. We accept these things because we have faith.— TubunMuzuru (@TubunMuzuru) April 17, 2020
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?
TWO CRITICAL QUESTIONS FOR POST PANDEMIC CONSIDERATION
(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.