COMMUNION IN A TIME OF COVID – (Part 2)

COMMUNION IN A TIME OF COVID (Part 2)

Response to Part 1 has demonstrated, in part how we are constrained by legalism and tradition, what we can and cannot do without recognizing how our discipline, our regulation, is a human construct and doesn’t always relate to scripture. Another hymn:

The Church of Christ in every age
Beset by change but Spirit led,
Must claim and test its heritage
And keep on rising from the dead.
Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000) © 1971 Stainer & Bell Ltd

We are living in and through a crisis. Judaeo Christian religion has existed through as sequence of crises each giving rise to changes in theology, sometimes permanently, sometimes transient. The changes have been initiated by natural events or human action. Faith has survived but its expression has often altered almost beyond recognition. The hymn makes the point that every age has its own crises, challenges, opportunities which bring about change. In these the church should look at its heritage and test what is relevant in its particular age and circumstance. Sometimes the change will be so immense, so radical, that it is like death. Sometimes it is death. But at this season (Easter) and in this crisis (Covid 19) we need to hold onto the trust that there is something beyond the crisis but that the crisis may well be literally or metaphorically one of death. Our faith, however, speaks of resurrection. But this is not a one-off at one time but beyond each crisis the church has kept ‘on rising form the dead’.

And so to Communion again. So much is focused here, and the more important an event and its commemoration in society, the more it tends to be hedged round in constraint, formality and law. The name Pharisee might come to mind. An animal had fallen into a ditch. But it was a Sabbath. ‘Get it out’, says Jesus. Rules are not meant to have a negative but a life-enhancing effect – I paraphrase.

We have been trying to work out how, and if, we can have communion in which one person presides and another in another place receives, the link being virtual, a streamed service. Methodism at one point in time decided that this would not be legitimate. You need a Presbyter on site to Preside. We are saying that such presidency is not legitimate in a virtual environment. So that’s decided.

In 1987 a man was taken hostage, held for a number of years and for much of the time in solitary confinement. He was a Christian. Communion meant something to him. He had no bread no wine, no companion. I recollect he spoke of lighting a candle and for him this was a eucharistic moment. His name was Terry Waite and he was, then the Special Envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie.

Our context is not as extreme. We have bread, we have wine (or as Methodists, grape juice). Some Christians, in isolation, have all of these. Some have company. Some might be able to ‘join’ a virtual service. What they don’t have is an ordained or authorized person to read the liturgy, to break the bread and share the wine. They just have themselves. Much like the first Christians in Acts 2:46 ‘Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home’.

We have our restrictions in place for the sake of church order and that is important, but as the story of the animal in the ditch testifies rules sometimes need to be broken, particularly if they are humanly made.

What we are currently saying seems to be that if I as a Presbyter living with three family members at a time of Covid want to share communion with my family that is totally acceptable. However, my neighbour who is not a Presbyter, Priest, who is without church authorization in any shape or form cannot. That cannot be right. Each household is the Body of Christ. Are we saying we cannot discern this Body?

These are not ordinary times. Like Terry Waite, many are in isolation. While holding to the rules of the church, where we must I see no conflict in a family who cannot access a church holding their own communion in the only way which is feasible – on their own, if virtual communion is not allowed or in circumstances when for one reason or another even that option is not open to them.

I sense a can of worms being opened … but ‘The church of Christ in every age, beset by change but Spirit led …Must keep on rising from the dead.

 

Published by

Andrew Pratt

Andrew Pratt was born in Paignton, Devon, England in 1948. For his first degree he studied Zoology (B.Sc. Hons., London) before going to the University College of North Wales in Bangor. Andrew obtained a M.Sc. in Marine Biology which was partly dependent on a thesis on the Effects of sympathomimetic drugs on the rectum of Pleuronectes platessa (effects of drugs on the guts of the plaice). From here he went to St Luke’s College, Exeter, since absorbed into Exeter University, to study for a PGCE. Andrew taught in Essex, Wrexham, and Liverpool together with some brief spells of supply teaching since entering the ministry. Subjects have ranged through biology, chemistry, religious studies, swimming, personal and social education, and health education. During his M.Sc., he began to foster a belief in God. He became a member of the Methodist Church in Exeter. Moving to Essex he saw little of the church as both his parents died in a space of a year and he was away seeing them at weekends. In Wrexham (Gresford) he sensed a call to the ministry and in 1979 went for theological training at the Queen’s (Ecumenical) College in Birmingham. He was there for three years, partly doing a post graduate Diploma in Theology at Birmingham University and partly doing ministerial training. It was here that Andrew began to write hymns as a means of exploring theology. He had already written poems (mainly for private consumption!) one of which was published in a college magazine at St Luke’s in 1972. Since leaving Birmingham, Andrew has been stationed in Northwich, Nantwich, Leigh and Hindley, and Orrell and Lamberhead Green (near Wigan). While in Nantwich he began to achieve publication of his texts, firstly in Hymns of the City and then, under the guidance and constructive criticism of Bernard Braley, with some regularity in Hymns and Congregational Songs. Andrew was asked to be part of the groups that edited Story Song, Big Blue Planet and Sound Bytes. He has been regularly published in Worship Live and has had articles, hymns and reviews published in the The Hymn, The Bulletin of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland(of which has been the Editor since 2004) Theological Book Review, Writers News, Writing Magazine, the Methodist Recorder, Reform and Crucible. For some time he broadcast regularly on BBC Radio Merseyside. From 2004 he was a member of the Music Resource Group appointed to compile Singing the Faith, convening the words group until its dissolution in 2009 when he resigned. Blinded by the Dazzle, his first hymn collection, was published in 1997 by Stainer & Bell. Further collections, Whatever Name or Creed, Reclaiming Praise and More than Words were subsequently produced. Over a period of three years, with Marjorie Dobson, he wrote material for the Revised Common Lectionary which was published on www.worshipcloud.com HymnQuest includes over 1400 of his hymn texts. He is a Non-Executive Director of Stainer & Bell Ltd., and was instrumental in their establishing a web site (www.hymns.uk.com) carrying contemporary hymn texts which could be downloaded for local use. He is Chair of the Pratt Green Trust. On two consecutive years Andrew entered the Pratt Green Essay Competition, achieving second and joint first prizes. This work acted as a springboard for his research in hymnody. In 1997 he gained a M.A in English from the University of Durham for his research into Frederick Faber’s Hymns on the Four Last Things. He has researched the origins of the Methodist Hymn Book (1933) for a Ph.D., at Liverpool Hope University College. A book based on this research, O for a thousand tongues – the Methodist Hymn Book (1933) in context was published by the Methodist Publishing House. In 2004 he was appointed as a tutor and then Acting Principal at Hartley Victoria College (part of the Partnership for Theological Education in Manchester) to its closure in 2015. He continued as an Honorary Research Fellow with the Partnershp. While there he wrote Net Gains (Methodist Publishing House) and Study Skills for Ministry (SCM). He has lectured and led workshops in the UK, USA, Finland, Poland, Ireland, and Germany. He has written and contributed to many books relating to hymns and worship including Charles Wesley: Life, Literature and Legacy (2011, Epworth, edit., Ted Campbell, Kenneth G.C Newport), Why Weren't We Told? (2012, Polebridge Press, USA, R.A.E. Hunt) Hymn, song, society (2014, Unigrafia Finland, edit Tapani Innanen, Veli-Matti Salminen), Methodism Abounding (2016, Church in the Market Place, edit., John Vincent), The Servant of God in Practice (2017, Deo, edit., J.W. Rogerson and John Vincent). He has written a series of reflections on selected hymns of Charles Wesley (Inextinguishable Blaze) and co-written with Marjorie Dobson two books of worship resources, Poppies and Snowdrops and Nothing too religious (both Inspire, Methodist Publishing House). In 2017 with Jan Berry he edited and contributed to Hymns for Hope and Healing (Stainer & Bell Ltd). He was one time Chair of the Methodist Peace Fellowship.

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