Online Communion for United Methodists?

Last week, Leroy Huizenga (@LHuizenga) sent us a link to an article on the United Methodist Church’s website titled, “Should churches offer Holy Communion online?” The article notes that this is one of the questions that was to be tackled by a group of UM bishops, theologians, and pastors sponsored by the UM Board of Discipleship and United Methodist Communications between Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.

The meeting was organized after Rev. Daniel Wilson at Central United Methodist Church in Concord, NC announced the beginning of an online church campus that would potentially offer communion.

Explaining his church’s vision for online communion, Rev. Wilson explained, “You will see onscreen an invitation from one of our pastors to get your elements of bread and juice or wine. We do not want to water it down so much that people use Goldfish (crackers) and apple juice.” The church also plans to have a team available to chat, pray and answer questions for online worshipers.

One participant in the meeting was the Rev. Dr. Gregory S. Neal , who says he has been offering Holy Communion on his website, Grace Incarnate Ministries, since 2003. In response to criticism, Rev. Neal maintains a page defending his practice of online communion and explains his reasoning.

Rev. Neal says that, “being a United Methodist – and, hence, Anglican in my Sacramentology – I affirm the catholic conception of instrumentality: God’s Grace is conveyed via means.” It seems, however, that he wishes to expand the definition of means. It is an interesting question to ask, how is God’s grace communicated through the Internet?

According to Rev. Neal, “if the intent is to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, and if their faith is focused on Christ Jesus while partaking, then what we have is certainly a Means of Grace.” However, it seems problematic to reduce the sacrament to a matter of intent. In this situation, the Christian is participating by watching and listening to a service over the Internet and receiving bread and wine (or juice) that blessed by the celebrant over the Internet, because of the right intent of the believer.

But if it really comes down to the intent of the Christian, why do they need to celebrate online at all? Why not just celebrate by oneself? Why does it need to be bread and wine at all?

However, after ten hours of discussion over the weekend of Sept 30 – Oct 1, the group is calling for a moratorium on celebrating communion online. By the end of the meeting, a majority of attendees agreed that “Participation in the Lord’s Supper entails the actual tactile sharing of bread and wine in a service that involves people corporeally together in the same place.”

The Rev. Steve Sidorak, leader of the Office on Christian Unity and Interreligious Relations, read to the group objections sent by email from representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Speaking with the United Methodist News Service, Rev. Sidorak said “To our ecumenical partners, we would become not only a stumbling block but also a laughingstock.”

The group committed to the moratorium and to further study on the issue. As the use of digital media for distributing sermons and creating video screen extension campuses continues, we’ll have a strong need to explain the necessity of an incarnate church.

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About the Contributor

Benjamin Robertson

Benjamin Robertson
Benjamin Robertson is a founding editor at Second Nature. He has worked in advertising for the Chicago Tribune and Gannett, and now is a web developer at Up&Up. He studied Communications and Media Studies under Dr. Read Schuchardt at Wheaton College in Illinois. He has presented papers on Marshall McLuhan, media ecology, and Christianity at the Media Ecology Association, National Communication Association, and the McLuhan's Philosophy of Media Centennial Conference in Brussels. He lives with his wife, Ruth, in Greenville, SC. His personal website is benjamingrobertson.com

Comments

  1. You might want to read my background paper, which I presented to the discussion group. It contains my conclusions regarding my online Communion experiment which might be of interest to you. You’ll find it on the umc.org website, or by clicking on the following link:

    http://umcmedia.org/umcorg/2013/communion/holy-communion-over-internet-reflections-experiment-neal.pdf

    You may be interested to know that I voted in favor of the moratorium and for further conversation on the role of the internet in our ministries. Far beyond the issue of the Eucharist, online ministry is a matter of extreme interest to me.

    You also might be interested to note that, in keeping with my vote in favor of the moratorium, I removed from my website the last two pages which provided directions for how to receive communion online.

  2. Hi Rev. Neal,

    Thanks for your update–I look forward to reading your conclusions!

    Ben

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