Recently a friend told me that she had been to receive Communion for first time for some months as her church was now open for worship: she was delighted to have been able to do so, as others are, as lockdown is beginning to be eased. Unlike my friend I haven’t been to worship in a church for a long time, worship there doesn’t currently feed my soul & it often leaves me feeling irritated & depressed. So its better for me to absent myself and look elsewhere. But rather than being a problem its become a gift, a challenge to think outside the box, and in a number of ways.
It’s encouraged me to develop my own daily prayer pattern at home.
It’s encouraged me to recognise holy spaces outside religious buildings and beyond, and to spend time there. For me that means, amongst other places, my shed, a quiet space by a nearby river, and a local woodland. If I was in town it would certainly include an art gallery and perhaps a bookshop, when they were open.
It’s sharpened my awareness of the Quakers insight into Communion, namely that its to be found in all sharing of food and drink, wherever and with whoever; so every meal is potentially Eucharistic.
Lacking the fellowship that’s an important aspect of church attendance, I’ve been encouraged to find it elsewhere. For me that’s been in telephone and live video conversations. Indeed, I’ve had more spiritual conversations in the past year that way then I would have had in many years of church membership.
It’s also widened my understanding of the communion of saints. The wonderful American poet Mary Oliver led a very solitary childhood but she used to say that she never lacked friends because she was always reading books. She wrote “ I never met any of my friends, of course, in a usual way – they were strangers, & lived only in their writings. But if they were only shadow-companions, still they were constant, & powerful, & amazing. That is, they said amazing things, and for me it changed the world.” I have lots of friends in that way, poets, writers, composers, painters and sculptors included, as well as family and friends, who have nourished me over the years & continue to do so. Some are still alive but most are dead, and for me they are all part of the communion of saints. They form a loving, supportive and nourishing web of which I too am a part. I never feel that I lack fellowship and certainly not when I pray.
So, while this has not been true for many others, the closure of the churches and the lack of public worship have been a great gift for me, and I give thanks for it. It’s widened my vision.
The church scored a massive own goal, in my view, in not allowing people who watch or attend streamed services, to administer Communion to themselves at home, rather insisting that they limit themselves to watching only the clergy leading the worship do so . I can understand the reasoning behind this, but the consequence is that Communion is effectively restricted to clergy & their families, & that can’t be right.
The reasoning I suspect is rather like that that opposed the translating of the Bible into English many centuries ago. What might people start to think and believe if they can read the Bible for themselves? What might happen if we allow ordinary men and women to celebrate communion with whoever, in their homes? They won’t do it properly and who might receive it? That would be the argument, but in reality, of course, it’s more about the church holding onto power instead of empowering others.
So my communion has consisted of meals shared with my wife & occasionally others, in the presence of the communion of saints………. until last December that is. Another friend, for whom lockdown had eventually become a source of spiritual depth, like me couldn’t bear the thought of going to his local church over Christmas. “I’ve even been wondering about celebrating HC on my own at home” he told me. “Hmm….” I replied “why don’t we do it together, online?”
So from Christmas day through to every Sunday since, that’s what we’ve done, We’ve had a short conversation midweek to plan it, and have then met at the same time every Sunday morning using WhatsApp and our computers. The pattern varies a bit but has been much the same each week, interspersed with periods of silence. We each bring a piece if bread or biscuit, and a small glass of something, for the communion itself.
We catchup with each other.
Silence and an opening prayer
We read and reflect together on the chosen Bible passage
We look at and reflect together on some visual images of the passage
We read and reflect on an appropriate poem
We share a time of prayer
One of us says a simple Eucharistic prayer
We receive communion from our own hands
We listen to a piece of music
We say the Lords Prayer
We bless each other.
Its been wonderful, rich, deep and often profoundly moving. We both look forward to it each week. Will we continue like this? I don’t know? What will happen now public worship is beginning to be possible again? I don’t know that either. Where will it lead? I certainly don’t know that. Clearly it has its limitations, not least it’s exclusivity. But I trust that the Holy Spirit has led us into worshipping together in this way and not just for our own benefit but to discover something that can be shared with others. I’m trusting that the way forward will come clear. To paraphrase Gamaliel ‘If its not of God it will wither, if its is of God we wont be able to stop it.” For me, Communion will never be the same again.