My church has been wrestling with the question of how we can celebrate the Lord’s supper together amidst the pandemic. We’re thinking about it both theologically and practically.
Why assume in-person and what other truths are highlighted by celebrating the Lord’s supper virtually?
What struck me about the denominational guide is that it begins with the assumption that a digitally mediated synchronous gathering of people is not a gathered assembly:
The Presbyterian Directory for Worship assumes that “the Lord’s Supper will be administered in person in a gathered assembly”.
It grounds this in theological values of “embodiment”, “community” and “meaning”. However I think it may be more of an artifact of its time rather than theologically derived–it wasn’t possible to have digital/virtual communion in the past and “embodiment”, “community” and “meaning” are all still possible in a digitally mediated format.
In fact partaking in communion together in “sacred time” with your community of faith while staying connected digitally may elevate other theological values such as the “priesthood of all believers” and draw attention to truths like:
“Because heaven and earth belong to God, we may worship in any place… The important thing was not the place, but the gathering of Christ’s body-the people of God-and the presence of Christ among them in Word and Sacrament.”
“When we gather at the Lord’s Supper the Spirit draws us into Christ’s presence and unites with the Church in every time and place. We join with all the faithful in heaven and on earth in offering thanksgiving to the triune God.” (cf Dyer’s point that “Online churches are also a major part of ministry into closed countries, functioning as a more interactive form of the radio broadcast ministries that began in the early twentieth century.” do believers in such situations share in Christ’s table?)
The denomination’s advisory opinion permits digital communion as a concession, but when we consider these other truths that are lived into through embracing digital/virtual aspects of communion (without neglecting the values of in-person gatherings), perhaps it shouldn’t be a concession, but something we promote?
How can we practically celebrate holy communion during the pandemic?
One interesting point from Dyer’s article emphasized the relational aspect of in-person communion: “In some cases, the concept of a shared meal is portrayed through the use of a common loaf of bread that participants pass around and take a piece from. Similarly, some traditions take wine from a shared chalice while others prepare individual servings of wine or grape juice.”
What if we could replicate some of these aspects even though our gathering is virtual?
For example, if we as a geographically local church celebrate communion together during a live video call, could we safely organize as elders, deacons and volunteers to distribute the elements from a common loaf and cup to our community at scale? Something like Amazon Fresh or Uber Eats but via a local church community.
These volunteers could also record greetings from each member of the church family to be played back during the livestream before we eat and drink together.
Or alternatively, in a similar vein to drive-thru covid testing sites, could we set up times and stations in our parking lot for people to pray together and partake of the bread and the cup together in a socially distant way with the elements being delivered to people in each vehicle?
Could we offer a hybrid of these models so that people can choose which they prefer without stigmatizing one or privileging one over the other?
There are still lots of open questions, but I wanted to put some of our thoughts out there and invite others to share their ideas and experiences too.
How is your church thinking about celebrating communion during the pandemic? Are there creative ways you’re living into your theology?