I was thinking just this morning that it was about time we paid another visit to our conversation about St Eucalyptus on the Rocks and St Anaglypta by the Skerry. It is some seven years since these two congregations came into being in the glorious imagination of my mind. Seven years is a long time on the internet and I was just musing that it might be worth revisiting the conundrum of their priest, which was how he could provide a Godly Eucharist in these two churches which are situated on adjacent islands which are well supplied with bandwidth but which have no Sunday ferry service.
Then just after thinking that it was worth returning to this question, I came upon, by mere happenchance, an example of someone in the Church of Scotland using the internet to conduct a Communion service.
Let me remind you firstly of the original fantasy conundrum and then I’ll point you something that is actually real and then I’ll ask some questions.
This was how I originally posed the St Eucalyptus/St Anaglypta conundrum:
Now, suppose we have two congregations which are linked in fellowship and love but who live on adjacent islands. Their priest, Father Indulgent wants everyone to have communion each Sunday and they are devout and holy and desirous of weekly communion. However, the person who runs the ferry link between the two blessed islands belongs to the Free Church of God of the Sabbath (continuing) and consequently will not operate any boat on a Sunday, for fear of eternal damnation.
What would we think, if Father set up a system (either closed circuit TV or via the internet) whereby he could stand at the altar in St Anaglypta-of-the-Rocks on one island but be seen and heard in St Eucalyptus-by-the-Skerry on the other island and then proceeded to have one communion service? Could he be deemed to consecrate the elements in both churches whilst remaining in one of them?
We will presume that the devout communities in each, respond with a loud Amen at the end of the Eucharistic prayer.
The thing that I noticed that is actually happening is a Church of Scotland minister near Dumfries who is putting online a 7 minute communion service, asking people to prepare bread and wine in their homes in order to take part in a weekly Eucharist. I’ve not forgotten Fr Madpriest’s longstanding commitment to providing a service like this online. I think that the offering from Dumfries is the first time that I’ve come across this kind of thing on a parish website.
When I first posed the case of St Eucalyptus and St Anaglypta online, I was generally sympathetic to experimentation and could fairly easily conceive of the Holy Spirit in her wisdom joining in with the use of technology in order to provide the holy mysteries to the people. It seemed at the time (seven whole years ago) that most feeling amongst those who were commenting on my post were dead against the idea.
I wonder now whether that still holds true.
We now use the internet to connect one person unto another much more routinely than once we did. Clearly some people in some denominations have reached a point where it just seems completely normal to engage in a Eucharistic activity online. I suspect our answers to the questions can tell us much about what we think of community, church and God.
The Church of Scotland congregation that I mentioned above is real and there communion service can be heard here: http://www.dumfriesnorthwest.org.uk/index.php/online-communion-service-16-march-2017/
The rubric on their website is this:
The intention is that you will participate and not spectate or listen in. You are taking communion in precisely the same way as you would at a church service but in your own home. The church is merely expanding way beyond the walls of one building.
I applaud this attempt to reach out to people – I think it is interesting. It does make me ask a lot of questions, which we’ll come to in a minute.
St Eucalyptus and St Anaglypta are fictional but not purely hypothetical. I have to make decisions alongside others about situations which could benefit from this kind of thing all the time. At a time when I see so-called megachurches in the USA rolling out different “campuses” for Sunday worship with everyone connected to hear a preacher preaching from one central place remotely, I can’t help but wonder whether there’s a model here that might be useful in Scotland. Suppose we have St Mary’s, Auchentoshan and St Mary’s, Auchtershuggle – two churches with a glorious heritage of Episcopal worship who are on their uppers. They are 5 miles apart. Would they be better linked to one another in some way (and what way?) or would they be better linked to a larger church at some distance digitally – St Miriam’s Cathedral, Auchterboggan for example which might be some 40 miles distant? To whom should one give the diocesan largesse in order to maintain ministry across a wide area where people are distributed thinly but with commendable devotion?
Now, here’s a few questions.
- Should our dioceses in the Scottish Episcopal Church be encouraging some churches to experiment in this area?
- Is a communion service more a communion service at a distance if it is shared live and in real time rather than recorded?
- Does the Church of England’s recent declaration that “the sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Communion are rightly administered” in the Church of Scotland cover this way of sharing communion in Dumfries. If someone hears it in Carlisle and participates with bread and wine, does the Church of England regard that person as having received communion?
- Seven years on, do we think that St Eucalyptus and St Anaglypta should receive a diocesan mission grant to install a screen and closed circuit TV equipment to allow the two congregations to receive communion together with Fr Induglent on one island?
- If you were writing a mission development plan for St Miriams or St Mary’s, Auchentoshan or St Mary’s Auchtershuggle, what would your top three goals for any of them be?
- Which sacramental acts do you think might be appropriately imparted via some kind of digital link?