communion

Virtual Communion

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Last week the Wall Street Journal ran an article about a United Methodist congregation that was getting in trouble for offering online communion. The church is an entirely online church, the services stream online, there is a web-based Bible Study, and there is a full time pastor in charge of putting it and keeping it all together. Communion online would mean that the participants would get their own juice and bread and then, after the pastor blessed and broke it, the congregants would each take the elements at the same time from their own location. Sounds crazy, right? Totally defeats the purpose of communion which is being together, right? Well… I’m not so sure. This post isn’t to advocate for online communion, but it’s not to advocate against it, either. Let’s talk about it a little more, shall we? And when we do, let’s think about some of these questions:

  • Is a virtual community a “real” community? If so, why? If not, why not? – For me, there are several “virtual” communities that are very real to me. I’m a part of an online clergy group that is a great support to me. The women in the group live all over the country and they share their stories in a closed group online. Would it be better to get together in person with them to chat about our common joys and struggles? Maybe, but it’s impossible. 
  • How do people use the internet for connection? What are they looking for? Look, let’s cut to the chase here, there are all kinds of virtual experiences people can get online. If someone is looking for a connection online, there are myriad possibilities. Is the church one of them? Are we as a church available when people are looking for a connection?
  • What kinds of people might be interested in ‘virtual’ communion – Homebound people? People with some sort of disorder that wouldn’t allow them to leave the house? (I’m wondering about extreme agoraphobia, for example) People who are considering returning to church but aren’t sure yet? I wonder if an online experience for those who don’t have the ability to make it to church for one reason or another would benefit from an online experience of the sacrament. If there is a significant number of people for whom this would benefit, why wouldn’t we explore it? on the other hand…
  • Does offering an online sacrament discourage folks from coming to church to receive the ‘real thing’? I wonder about this. If it’s easy to just flip on my computer screen and “go” to church, would some stay away from a physical church building out of convenience?
  • If we (whoever we are) say “no” to online communion, what are we prepared to do instead? It’s not enough to say “nope, sorry, no such thing as virtual communion.” That may be. The PC(USA) may never allow this. I think we’d better make absolutely sure that we’ve got a solid plan in place for how to connect to people who are hungry for this kind of connection.

I’ve got lots of questions about this and I think we need to keep asking the question. Let’s not slam the door on this discussion before we even talk about it. God is big.

For Further Reading:

Church’s Online Communion: Sacrament or Sacrilege 

PCUSA: Can Online Communion be a Substitute for the Real Thing?