New courses beginning September 2020 – Theology, Ministry, Mission – Validated by Durham University
1 God still needs prophets who will rage,
who speak God’s words amid despair,
to this and every nation;
who reach again with nail?scarred hands
into the pain we’re feeling,
to hold us when we weep at loss,
who bring a hope of healing.
2 God still needs prophets who will hold
a mirror to our blindness,
to show us, each and everyone,
how hollow is our kindness;
how empty are our words of love
when shrouded in derision;
how clever words can’t justify
3 God still needs prophets who ignore
religions that confine us,
who magnify our words of love
through actions to refine us.
May we be prophets through our words
and in our hands of healing,
that others might see Christ in us
while Christ to us revealing.
Andrew E Pratt (born 1948)
Words © 2015 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, http://www.stainer.co.uk.
Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.
Metre: 8 7 8 7 D
The following article was submitted to the Methodist Recorder and published under the head: The crucial challenge facing us all. It expresses a personal view but is written from the perspective of Methodism in the UK. I am re-publishing it here, being aware that not everyone reads the Methodist Recorder.
Central to our faith is an understanding that God is love, and an expression of this is our capacity to see Christ in others and represent Christ to them. If Christians use this as a lens to test their response to Covid-19 it might produce some interesting reflections. An early response to the virus was to set up networks to distribute food to vulnerable people. That makes sense in that it mirrors early Christian care in Acts. Following Peter’s Pentecost sermon the people repented and began an exploration of what it meant to live differently. They met to share their meals in their homes, with the affirmation that they held all in common and distributed help to those who would otherwise be in need.
This has led me to wonder how different the church might be after Covid 19. Just how willing are we as individuals, and as an institution, to risk embracing change, renewed after some form of repentance, or will we reassume our old ways.
As we approached Easter, the denominations entered discussion and debate as to how, in lockdown, they could worship. Hitherto this had been corporate, taking place in dedicated buildings with formalised liturgies and, sometimes elaborate, ritual. The degree to which this formality had been concretised over millennia was evidenced by the form and tradition of the words and the actions that accompany them. In addition, in some denominations liturgical dress itself has been determined down to the nature of the garments, how they are prepared and worn. For some this is significant, but it lacks the simplicity that I read of in Acts or the Gospels.
As Christians sought to celebrate the Eucharist this Easter we witnessed the Archbishop of Canterbury in his kitchen with his wife presiding at a liturgy while fully robed. Nothing could be further from an ordinary meal shared in a family home and it had the feel of having crossed over into a TV cookery show. I don’t say that in criticism of the Archbishop who is as much captive to culture, tradition and expectation as any of us. Others tried to ‘gather’ virtual congregations who were expressly directed not to share bread and wine and were, by definition, separate from one another. Still others provided recorded presentations of worship or contemplation. At the same time those who can’t access the internet have been offered varied fare by radio, television or in print.
All of our attempts to maintain worship are laudable, but perhaps miss a crucial challenge. The first worship of the early Christians was, arguably, under lockdown, took place in family homes, with no sense of hierarchy or superiority of any participants. Probably they decided amongst themselves who would break the bread. Maybe culture dictated the eldest male. I’m not sure it was a religious or theological choice. Perhaps Mum decided?
For us at Easter, and for the immediate future, a truly refreshing sense of repentance of misunderstanding could be to encourage the acted parable of people sharing a meal of bread and wine organised by and participated in by family members, or individuals, themselves at home. This might be regarded as radical or innovative, if not wrong, yet it would actually be more closely historically grounded than our authorised acts of worship to which we have become accustomed Sunday by Sunday.
All this would lack would be an assurance of ‘authenticity’. It would be outside of the authoritarian control of those who ‘know’ how it should be done. We still haven’t learnt the lessons of colonialism from a negative point of view, or liberation theology as a positive. Putting it another way we seem to have re-learnt the Pharasaism that Jesus criticised. I recollect a story of Jesus. A beast of burden had fallen into a ditch. But it was the Sabbath. Human rules said it should be left there. Jesus countered that. Our human rules say that special authorised people like me have to Preside at communion. Far nearer to Pharasaism than to Jesus, I think. Reading scripture carefully, from where we are under lock down in a 21st century world, might well take us to a very different place than that in which the church finds itself. There is talk of a new Reformation. Interestingly, some other denominations are nearer to this than Methodism. Perhaps we are clinging too much to John Wesley’s authoritarian governance, rather than owning his willingness to risk breaking rules when this is what the Gospel, the love of neighbour, required.
Rev Dr Andrew Pratt (Supernumerary Presbyter and one time Acting Principal of Hartley Victoria College).
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.