Staying at the Table Together: Communion During COVID as a Global Conversation

As I reached the front of the outdoor chapel at CDF Alex Haley Farm to receive communion, we threw our arms around each other in the tight, fierce grip of women who do not fall apart – who cannot fall apart – and wept. I could taste the bread on my tongue. I could feel the presence of guardians around us, gently buffering our space. Church Mother, the Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson. Scholar warrior, Dr. Janet Wolf. I was safe in a way I rarely am, and I let out the heavy sobs of grief and relief that blended into one feeling.

Communion has always been a visceral thing for me. It has always been a physical thing for me. It has made Christ present for me in a way nothing else can. 

I was the child who scattered the remaining bread amidst the graves in the cemetery behind the old church. I was the teen that carefully poured the juice into the grass. I was the woman who defied an upbringing that condemned women pastors to answer the call and become a steward of these sacred things. 

In the grip of my Soror, the Rev. Carissa Rogers, surrounded by the saints, I felt an unleashing of a grief too large, and a hope too vast, for any one person to carry on her own. We had been called, and we had answered – she and I. We had given our lives to be stewards of this sacrament, this Holy Mystery, this sacred meal. The cost had been high. 

The institution demanded its pound of flesh, the sacrifice of our wholeness, the tearing out of the need for tenderness and affection. I had grieved as my friend, my Soror, my clergy sister, had decided wholeness was too high a price, as she had surrendered her credentials in order to remain an unapologetically Queer woman. For my part, I had sublimated my whole self to the call, foregoing safety and tenderness and companionship, only to find that my body was still broken, my sacramental authority still under attack, that there was nothing I could give or give up that could alter the brutal weight of the system on the body of a young, Queer woman.

Yet, I had just seen something that had turned the weight of it upside down, took it off my shoulders and placed it beneath my feet, gave me a foundation to stand upon rather than a burden to bear. I had seen with my own eyes my friend standing behind the Table, invited to assist in presiding over the elements for this gathering of some of the world’s most faithful, most powerful, most humble servants of God. I had seen an afro-futuristic vision of what could be, and what ought to be, and what is.

We were staying at the Table – despite it all – because it is in this sacred meal we are reminded that there is nothing we have to give or be or do to be worthy of the love of God, the gift of grace, the presence of the Spirit. We believe this, we proclaim this, that is the call. 

This week, the United Methodist global family was supposed to be gathering in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in order to determine the future place of folxs like Carissa and I at The Table. Instead, we find ourselves having very different conversations. Conversations that many people never thought we would have about the future of all of our COMMUNAL relationship with The Table as a people driven apart by pandemic, unable to pass the peace, or break one loaf, or share from one cup.

In a time of social distancing, this most physical aspect of the calling, presiding at Table, has become one of the most difficult aspects of our work to grapple with and grieve – not only for Queer clergy, but for our whole pastoral community of Elders and Licensed Local Pastors. 

Early on, we all heard with horror about the Episcopal priest in DC who had become the epicenter of an outbreak after serving communion and shaking hands with hundreds of people. Pastors around the country of all denominations reckoned with the fact that we had the capacity to be “super-spreaders” simply by doing our work of loving and guiding in the same way we always had. 

So, together we ask, how do we stay at the Table now? 

In consideration to those of us who have been fighting our whole lives to be able to bless, break, and share this bread with the most outcast, the most rejected, the most overlooked, it is advisable not to approach this conversation with a casual tone, lest we appear to be flippant about what has been so heavy and so painful for so many for so long. 

‘We’ll just do it online,’ is not a fully satisfying conclusion to anyone, but perhaps even more uncomfortable for those who have never known the privilege of being able to take their place at The Table for granted. So let us agree to pursue whatever path forward in a way that does the least harm. 

That is far from the tone taken by Diana Butler Bass in issuing her piece describing those who did not do online communion as “Hoarders of the Eucharist.” While people of good conscience all around the world, the stewards of the sacraments, seek to do their best during this difficult time, it is a highly privileged pronouncement to make just a couple months into this new chapter. Further, it was an accusation that rang quite hollow indeed when what was intended was not a vigorous conversation about how to get the sacraments to the most vulnerable and the least conveniently located, but rather how to get them to the most comfortable and conveniently contacted. 

Therefore, I want to approach this conversation with the tenderness that this Institution has often denied me, and ask that we be so very gentle with one another in this conversation. That we be so very aware of the different things this meal has meant to each of us. That we be so very aware of the different things this meal has cost us and given us. That we be so very aware of the wounds of those of us who come broken to the Table. 

As someone who relies upon listening as the first step to any decision, plan or approach, I spent the weekend before this listening deeply to anyone who would speak to me about this. I spoke to friends across Pan-Methodism, and across denominations, and across the globe. I was blessed to get to receive the wisdom of friends from the Methodist Church of Mexico, the Methodist Church of South Africa, the AME Church, the CME Church, etc. 

For example, I am deeply indebted to my friend, the Rev. Lauren Matthew of the Methodist Church of South Africa, for opening up a vast window into conversations in their nation. Rev. Matthew serves with the Methodist Church of South Africa Doctrine, Ethics and Worship Committee, which is engaging in thorough and public discussion of online Communion over Zoom. The first part of the two part series discussed presentations and papers by the following thinkers:  Rev. Thembani Ngcayisa, Rev. Faan Myburgh, Mr. Peter Frow, Rev. Sidwell Mokgothu, Rev. Tim AtwellDr. Angela Flint and Fr. Thabang Nkadimeng. The second part of the series discussed presentations and papers by Mzwandile Molo Martin Mostert, Mteteli Caba, Norman Raphahlela, Roger Scholtz, Wesley Magruder, Wesley Olivier, Xolisani Silolo, Sifiso Khuzwayo.

In all these conversations that I had with friends, however, I realized that there is still privilege inherent in the fact that we are people with education and credentials communicating over computers, with wifi, and electricity. So, one of the most important calls I made was to one of my closest friends, Donald, whose friendship is indeed a privilege, and who has compassion for our unhoused neighbors as one who has spent much of his life as one of them. “The way I think about it,” Donald told me, “every time we get to eat, it’s Communion. Maybe y’all could figure out a way of getting hungry people food along with their Communion.” 

It is the task of those of us who are the stewards of these sacred things to not only learn, carry, and teach the tradition and theology of that which we steward, but also to maintain a rigorous commitment to ensuring that this meal does not become a mockery by leaving out the very people whose inclusion transforms this Table into a revolutionary act. We are the ones responsible to ensure that our Tables do not begin to mimic the ones the world sets out, where folxs sit only with who they feel comfortable, speak only with whom they agree, eat only with whom they can network. 

To invite folxs to gather with us at the computer in order to break bread and share juice assumes that a) they have a computer or smartphone b) they have access to electricity that would permit long periods of use c) they have access to wifi or enough data to stream large amounts d) that they have bread and juice, food and water, substitutes of any kind. 

Therefore, as our congregations gather in this way, it is incumbent upon us as the stewards of this means of grace, that we do not allow our computer screens to become closed circuit networks where we do not see the parts of the world that make us uncomfortable; that we do not allow our screens to become windows to other worlds, but not our own. 

I wanted to offer some thoughts, largely derived from the conversations I’ve been having and the wisdom that has been shared by my friends around the world. I want to encourage those who are moving forward on this path to do so in a way that listens to one another, seeks to be as true to the sacrament as possible, and that does as little harm to those for whom this will not feel like an option, either because of conviction or accessibility. 

So, please receive and ponder with me these things that I’ve received, these things that I am allowing to challenge me. I want to invite you to conversation not debate, because we have already fought enough wars over these things. At some point, everyone will likely find something with which they agree and something with which they disagree, and many things with which to wrestle. 

I invite you to receive and ponder with me this tenfold prayer/reflection/meditation, in order that when all is said and done, when we are able to sit at The Table together again, no one will be missing needlessly.

1. First, may we always remember who is missing, who we have left out.

It feels to me in pieces like Diana Butler Bass’s, that there is a lot of conflation going on between people who are truly excluded, and those who are simply inconvenienced. In seminary, I learned of a group during the Reformation time that fasted from Communion for decades because they could not agree upon what it is. We, by no means, should be those people, but neither have we reached any kind of state of emergency amongst those of us who are comfortably tucked in our homes, with our families, and our food, and our many devices; unbothered by the terrorism of racism, the necessity of being an essential worker, or the loss of those close to us; we who have missed a Communion or two in the past because of a vacation, or a soccer game, or an alarm that didn’t go off. There are many people who do not have the luxury of this security, these leisure activities or possessions, certainly, but let us not conflate ourselves with them. May we, rather, be mindful of them and hear them. 

To me, the accusation of “hoarding the Eucharist” and the arguments to share with the excluded and abandoned, ring hollow when the method through which we are sharing is not accessible to those who are truly cast aside. It rings hollow to say that we are hoarding the bread from the hungry, when we are not truly speaking of sharing bread with the hungry, but of eating our own. The radical, redistributive nature of Communion, lost for the most part over millennia, is in no way recaptured if it leads to a deeper engagement only with those who have the resources to tune in. We must push ourselves further, once again, to consider how our feast can be tied to, connected to, offered to those who most need it. If we do not, we render ourselves cynical indeed to claim their suffering for ourselves, while doing nothing about it. 

Let us strive to be honest about who are the vulnerable, who are the suffering, who are the excluded and discern whether we are acting to prioritize their inclusion, or whether we are comforting the comfortable. It is okay to do both, but we must do both, and not merely the latter. 

For decades, we have had the capacity to extend the Table in this way to those who we call “shut-ins”, to folxs in prison, to folxs who cannot be with us physically for a plethora of reasons. Yet, we did not pursue this option until we needed it ourselves. This extending of the Table can truly be a blessing to those who we had not thought to offer it to before in this way, but we need to reckon with why – if this is so necessary – it was not necessary for them before it affected us. This is not a guilt trip that any single person should take upon their shoulders, this is a communal question that we all as a community can struggle with together. 

Donald suggests that perhaps as time goes on, if we were driven to get Communion to those who are most hungry, that we could also bring them enough food to soothe their hunger as well. And that, takes us closer to what Communion was, and is why we must not forget to listen. 

2. Second, may we always remember that people are truly dying, and that within the context of the United States, this is hitting our Black communities and our Indigenous communities hardest of all, and bringing terror to our Undocumented kin. May we be sensitive and intentional about hearing their voices in the conversation, and be vigilant to hear voices from our global church as well. 

Oftentimes, those of us who have the most privilege of physical safety and emotional distance are the ones who can invest the most effort in these conversations. Case in point, what I am doing right now. For those of us in the predominantly white parts of the Pan-Methodist family, we will not find as heavy a percentage of our members to be in the populations most heavily relied upon as essential labor and most likely to be disproportionately impacted by contagion. 

This is not a new part of our story. In 1793, my home city of Philadelphia was ravaged by the yellow fever. The white population that could flee did flee, escaping out of the city to avoid contagion, leaving behind their friends and neighbors to die alone. It was the AME Church, led by Richard Allen that stepped up.

“When few white citizens dared to leave their homes to help others in need, Allen and his band of black aid workers roamed Philadelphia streets. Based on eyewitness narratives, one can imagine Allen and Absalom Jones, a fellow African-American leader and founder of St. Thomas’ African Episcopal Church, entering homes with boarded-up windows. Neighbors yelled that the devil inhabited people’s homes and bodies: “You won’t go in there if ya’ know what’s good for ya’!” Inside they found white victims of the fever, abandoned or left alone when the rest of their families died. Allen and Jones built caskets, laid the dead to rest, and moved along.”

They had hoped that their actions would transform their relationships with their white neighbors, proving to them their worth. Instead, they were demeaned and accused of only helping white people so they could rob them. What an evil world we white members of the population built that we ever demanded that they had to prove anything to us to begin with, and that even the risk and sacrifice of their lives was not sufficient to satisfy the bottomless pit of our deadly racism. 

Let us seek to live differently in this time. Let us see what is happening in the world around us, be mindful of the different roles we are physically playing, and listen to the wisdom of those most impacted. 

According to my dear friend John Thomas III, the Editor of the Christian Recorder of the AME Church, “I think that the AME Church found that we agreed to disagree with valid theological arguments on both sides. It’s a situation where you trust pastors to make the best decisions for their congregations and members given the need for social distancing.” While some Bishops had strong opinions against home communion, John told me that others took a more open approach. Such as Bishop Clement W. Fugh, who suggested a Communion of Empty Hands, in which Communion could be celebrated online and members would receive it with empty hands at home until they could receive it physically. 

The CME Church, Christian Methodist Episcopal, meanwhile seems to be in a similar situation as the AME and UMC, in that there is no universal pronouncement and churches are each deciding at a local level. My friend, the Rev. Dr. Shazetta Thompson-Hill of the CME Church, tells me that some are doing it online, others by drive-thru Communion, and others are abstaining during this time. The AMEZ, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, on the other hand, has taken a stance to prohibit online communion. 

My friend, the Rev. Xam Murillo of the Methodist Church of Mexico, reminds me that their Liberation focused tradition is more prone to listen to the needs of the suffering in determining their actions, than those of us who emerge from the perspective of the colonizer. He shared with me this story, 

“Bishop Federico Pagura, who founded CLAI and was WCC president for Latin America, he shares being in Guatemala after a devastating earthquake. People gathered knowing a bishop was in town. They asked him ecumenically to celebrate: Methodists, Roman Catholics, etc… he laughs at himself writing when he asked for the wine and bread… and they offer him choclo bread and coffee, and he consecrated and celebrated with it…”

 Xam’s story brought to mind what my friend Minister Candace Simpson reminded me of this week – that in Acts 8:36, the Ethiopian Eunuch cried out, “Look here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

3. Third, may we engage across ecumenical lines without tearing down the polity and theology of other traditions.

We are not going to agree about this, because we never have. People were fighting wars over these points and killing one another for hundreds of years. We do not have a unified Christian theology of what the sacrament of Communion is or means, or whether it even is a sacrament. 

It is not “playing fair,” therefore, for Butler Bass to have hurled the misnomer “Hoarders of Eucharist” at those who are merely doing their best within their convictions of conscience to be good stewards of what has been entrusted to them according to their own theology and understanding of what is taking place. And not to be redundant, but we are two months into this… people have fasted from Eucharist for decades in the past… we have not reached the point at all where conversation has been exhausted and where insults are to be thrown. 

Such behavior can lead easily to misunderstandings of what is actually happening around us. For instance, my friend the Rev. Jemima Strain of the Methodist Church in England tells me that the Archbishop of Canterbury (Anglican) presided at communion while they live-streamed on Easter Sunday. “Their theology is that the priest/presbyter is receiving the elements on behalf of the faithful.”  (See comprehensive report on online worship in England here.)

Things are not so here in the United States, however. Dr. Wil Gafney, of the Episcopal Church, the body of the Anglican Communion within the United States, on the other hand explains that “We are all experiencing a Eucharistic fast, not imposed by clergy or hierarchy as suggested in [Diana Butler Bass’s] piece. Indeed, we who have authority and agency to consecrate elements are not doing so until we can do so with our people. And individual priests cannot commune her self but a priest isolated with her partner or family can and they are not doing so.”

One can easily understand how such casual accusations of “hoarding” without a real understanding of the theology of Eucharist for another tradition, and the sacrifices being made by its clergy and laity, could be destructive of Christian community and fruitful dialogue in this area, and do needless harm and offense to those who are seeking to be faithful to their convictions. 

Instead, perhaps we could lean into how we can best live out our Methodist theology and converse with others in order to learn rather than critique their own theology. There is the opportunity that they may provide us with things that may deepen our own practice.

For instance, I spoke to one of my favorite academics, Dr. Thea Portier-Young, knowing she would have a different perspective as a Catholic woman. She made a suggestion that is quite appropriate for our tradition and understanding of the elements as well. That suggestion was that we train people within households to be eucharistic ministers, to know what to do with the elements afterwards. This provides me an opportunity to segue to a prayer very close to my heart. 

4. Fourth, may we not damage our understanding of this means of grace and the impact it has upon us by handling it without care, by being careless or casual with that which millennia of faithful Christians have sought so hard to pass on to us with care and reverence.

As that little girl who took care of the bread and juice after the service, as that Chapel Intern who properly disposed of the elements after services at Duke Divinity School, I feel a deep conviction that how we treat what we have rendered consecrated will have a huge impact on our experience and understanding of it.

Therefore, Thea’s suggestion of training Eucharistic ministers is one that I find very helpful. It is the opportunity to prepare folxs and in so doing to deepen their understanding and appreciation for the elements of communion. 

How many little girls could sense their first bit of calling as they take responsibility to make sure that the elements of Communion do not end up down the sink or down the drain or in the trash? How many folxs might have their tactile experience of communion forever transformed by understanding that we do not treat it the same after it has been consecrated? How much more meaning might it have for people?

These, of course, are just ancillary benefits to the reality that this is really important. As pastors, we are the stewards of these elements, of this meal, and it is our responsibility to do all within our power to follow through to the end. This means that if we as a community are going to permit folxs to use elements within their own homes, and we are the ones to consecrate them, then we must take responsibility to also educate folxs about how to properly dispose of that which remains. Eating it will likely be, for many, the simplest and most nutritious conclusion to the affair. 

5. Fifth, may we maintain not only the mystery but also the unity of this means of grace.

I am indebted fully for this insight to the Rev. Abigail Parker Herrera, both for the concept and for the wording. 

To Abby part of maintaining the mystery and the unity is that we strive to truly share this meal together in as similar a way as possible to the embodied presence together, not diminishing the things that do not need to be diminished in order to suit our own convenience. This principle applies to the timing in which which we partake. To her, to simply watch a service of Communion at our leisure, it would feel like a diminishing of the Body of Christ. It would feel as if we are saying, I have no need of you, you have no need of me. 

These days, for those in education as students or teachers, we are accustomed to the language of synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous means that online lectures are live and students and professors participate in real time. Asynchronous means that professors record their lectures and students digest them at their leisure. 

In order to maintain the understanding on the part of folxs that Communion is both participatory and communal, it would therefore seem apropos for it to be synchronous (at the same time) and not asynchronous (at your leisure). For those who do not celebrate their services live, it would seem like something to explore whether that portion could be live, or whether a separate Communion service via Zoom could be made available for those who want to receive.

1 Corinthians 10:17 tells us, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” How then can we seek to challenge ourselves to maintain that sense for our congregations. This may be one way for those pastors who weary of feeling like producers to seize the opportunity to engage in live, unpredictable community with their congregations. 

My friend, the Rev. Xam Murillo tells me of the most incredible way that they have been doing this in the Methodist Church of Mexico. The Bishop sent out to all the churches a theological document so that they could study about Communion and the elements ahead of time. He also sent with it a very simple recipe for bread, so that they could make that bread at home and all have the same loaf ready. When the time came, the Bishop led the whole country in Communion all together, and they all had the understanding from their study, and they all had the same loaf of bread in their hands. It may not have been necessary to have the same bread, any form of food would do, but was it not beautiful? Did it not provide a way for the people to feel closer to one another, and for the experience to feel closer to what they long for and miss? Did not the intentionality of it remind them of the mystery and unity of the meal?

It seems appropriate to strive in all ways to experience this together, to feel unified, transformed by the Holy Mystery, and made whole.

6. Sixth, may we take this opportunity for folxs to learn, to be educated about the sacrament and deepened in their appreciation, understanding, and experience of this means of grace. 

It was working at the Duke Youth Academy with Dr. Fred Edie and Rev. Elizabeth Ingram Schindler that I came to understand the transformative power of a mental connection to what is taking place in Communion. After my students left, they would often contact me, telling me how much they missed Communion. We created a longing in them for a sacrament that was not rote recitation, but was transformative liturgy. They understood, for many the first time, what they words they were saying meant as they spoke and heard the liturgy. It was no longer something to “get through”, it had become poetry to them. 

I find that there is no greater joy in my life than to be able to share Communion with young people in a way that makes them feel something, know something, believe something. 

It seems that we have a moment now, as the Methodist Church of Mexico is seizing upon, to help deepen folxs understanding of this meal in a way that could be transformative for the rest of their lives. What would it look like to encourage them to study and prepare for online communion, the way we have done? What would it look like to help folxs to feel the seriousness of what is taking place, to treat it as sacrament and not ceremony? What would it look like to take time during the service to learn about different parts of what we do at The Table?

May we not allow the necessity of Communion, that some feel in this time, to become the convenience of Communion that may last for time unforeseeable. Let us do all in our power to retain the sacredness, the mystery, of this means of grace.  

7. Seventh, may we remember that we are stewards of a Holy Mystery, and avoid the temptation to strike the rock. The “why” is important as well as the “what.”

In Numbers 20:6-13, God instructs Moses to speak to the rock and cause water to come forth. Instead, Moses chooses to do the more dramatic thing, the thing that will give him the opportunity to perform, the thing that will remind them of his power rather than God’s power: Moses strikes the rock. 

In Exodus 17:6, God had told Moses to strike the rock in order that water might come out, and Moses does so. Yet, here in Numbers 20, God gives a different command – God says, speak to the rock. Yet, perhaps Moses felt silly, or perhaps he felt insecure and wanted to remind the people of what he could do. So rather than doing what God commanded, Moses struck the rock as he had in Exodus. 

God did not punish the people for the choice of Moses, water still came forth. Yet, God told Moses that because he had done this, he would not be able to cross over into the Promised Land. God needed the people of Israel to know who had brought them there. God needed the people to know it was the power of God and not the power of Moses. 

In this different time, we must remember to consider the “why” and not only the “what” of what we do. We may do something that causes water to come out, but may we be careful to do so to show God’s power and not our own. May we be careful to do feeling the weight of God’s guidance, and not the pressure of the people. 

We must be aware and kind to one another. Some will choose to abstain from doing Communion in this way, and some will not. Each one must search their hearts for the “why” of “what” they do. 

My friend John Thomas III of the AME Church, reminds me that they are watching their community be decimated by this virus, and they must comfort them in the way each pastor feels convicted and called – not engage in the debates of we who have the privilege of distance from the fire. 

Conversely, a pastor may feel that they too are under fire if they feel under pressure from tithing church members to celebrate Communion. Is the decision to do so in response to the fear of interpersonal consequences the same as the decision to do so out of compassion for those experiencing true terror? 

We must always consider the “why” and the “what.” It looked the same both times that Moses struck the rock, but the second time, he wasn’t doing it because God told him to do it. 

Communion is not only about comfort, it is also – and perhaps even more so – about discomfort. It calls us to come and sit beside those that do not look or sound or smell or think the way that we do. 

We each must discern whether we are doing it out of fear or courage, convenience or conviction. There will be some that do and some that do not for all these reasons and more, and I wish very much that the weight of that decision did not land so squarely on individual ministers to add to the many things so heavy on their minds. It is a heavy weight indeed, and one which I do not truly want to make heavier.

8. Eighth, in our debates about this may we not erode the callings of our clergy, ordained and licensed, especially those whose authority is most often challenged and attacked. 

There is a sensitivity I would like us to have about the ways that authority is assumed or is earned depending on one’s level of privilege. I am hearing repeatedly within the conversation that it shouldn’t just be Elders and local pastors who can preside over the Table anyway. If that is a discussion for us to have, then let us have it, but let us not conflate conviction with convenience and do damage to those whose authority is already so often undermined and diminished. Within our connectional system, some have authority assumed because of their gender, race, orientation, nation of origin, physical capacity, while others must work doubly hard to be able to lead in the way that they are called. What is handed to some must be earned, struggled for, and sometimes demanded by others. 

Bearing that in mind, may we be aware of our own privilege and the ways that we express it or are unaware of it within this conversation. Like the hip cis-het white male pastor who says, “Just call me Bob,” while his Black female counterpart goes by the Rev. Dr. – may we not undermine the authority of our peers by tossing aside so lightly something that our privilege renders less costly to us and therefore less dear.

9. Ninth, may we respect and remember that online community and online Communion are experienced differently for different people. May we be sensitive and gentle with one another where we each are.

This reality may be affected by a multitude of factors, among them each person’s accessibility to technology, and their past experiences with it. When it comes to technology, we are not only talking about having a device, but also of appropriate electricity and internet connection, and the knowledge of how to use it. 

You may have seen the SNL skit about Zoom meetings where two women who work for the company simply do not know how to interact with a camera. They sit too close, too far, they chatter. While this may be amusing to digital natives like myself, it is all too real and all too painful for those who are trying to keep up these days. 

I was blessed to be able to order a webcam and teach a friend in his 80’s how to FaceTime and Zoom with his family. For him it was a good experience. He was able to figure out the technology that I had shipped to his house, with me walking him through it. He was able to begin to video chat with his children and grandchildren. That was a beautiful thing for him, but for most people in his demographic, and for those excluded from technology because of resources or accessibility, it will not be so simple. 

Conversely, for those who do not view online community and online experiences as real, it would be advisable to be respectful of the experiences of those for whom it is very much real. We have different experiences of what it means and what it feels like and what it is capable of doing in our emotional, psychological and spiritual realities. 

The Rev. Jemima Strain, informs me that while the Methodist Church of England is not celebrating Communion online at this time, they are struggling to be creative and listen to one another and find a way forward through engaging in the gift that online community can be for many, offering an act of spiritual communion, for instance, on Easter Day.

The Council of Bishops of the Methodist Church in Brazil, on the other hand, has ruled much more broadly that Holy Communion shall be celebrated during online worship, preferably live-streaming, with a video to be available for those who cannot attend live, and an audio version for those without access to video-streaming .

For me, as someone who has moved so frequently, and whose acts for justice have had consequences, my truest support system has come to be my online community. The women who often advise and hold me up and know me best are the ones who have been doing so for the longest through online community. The people around me physically, for the most part, did not watch what I went through in front of the Waller County Jail with the kind of focus that many of my friends and Sorors around the country did. They do not know the trauma I’ve endured or how it changed me, and they don’t always know how to support me. But Candace and Carissa and Valerie and Wil and Traci and Aundria do. That experience is real for me. 

I share this to say, let us not be hasty to dismiss or mock those who struggle with technology; and likewise, let us not dismiss the power that it has had to create support and survival for some, and how it might now do so for others. 

This will mean that the experience of online Communion will not feel the same for everyone who chooses to partake, because of these factors and so many others. It may work great for many, and just will not for others. Perhaps we can be kind to one another in this, not condemning those who do not feel the connection or even want to explore it, nor condemning those who experience it as a joy and a means of grace. 

10. Tenth, may we remember that we are not alone in discerning the right path forward. We are in this together. 

May we remember that it is the presence of Christ experienced through the community that caused us to love The Table at which we gather. May we remember that we need one another, that we love one another, and that as we move forward we still want to be sitting with one another at this Table. 

Hard conversations are being had all over the world about the future of the church and the future of The Table, and these conversations will be richer the more they are cross-pollinated and encouraged.

May we celebrate one another’s creativity as we grapple with these hard questions, and find delight in experiencing community in new ways that will transform the church. 

May we talk with one another and never feel like we are in this alone, and never feel like we have to figure out all the answers in the isolation of our homes, and empty churches with empty pews. 

May we be gentle with one another, remembering that we are truly all doing our best, and we have come so far in such a short amount of time. 

May we still be able to meet one another at the Table someday, to hold one another’s griefs and sorrows, joys and celebrations, and squeeze all of the pieces of our scattered selves and scattered flock back together again.

2 thoughts on “Staying at the Table Together: Communion During COVID as a Global Conversation”

  1. Thank you for this heartfelt and indepth commentary. I truly appreciate the slightly different perspective that you’ve brought to this sometimes touchy topic.You’ve hit upon a few things that many have missed and we all need to consider. Thank you again.

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