Worship and Communion in a Pandemic

I am leading a study for my home congregation on “Being the Body of Christ in a Socially Distant World.” We are considering the ways in which the pandemic has challenged our habits of being church, but we also are talking about the new practices we have discovered that may be useful to our ministry and fellowship even when this present darkness is behind us. This coming week, we will be talking about virtual worship, particularly the virtual practice of Communion, or the Lord’s Supper. The following are resources I assembled to give them food for thought on the subject. Perhaps they will be useful to some of you as well.

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Take a look at these five short and accessible articles wrestling with the impact of COVID-19 on Christian worship, especially the celebration of Communion.

  1. An NPR story that confirms that much of our experience with virtual church—good and bad—is being felt by churchgoers all over the country:

https://www.npr.org/2020/05/20/858918339/things-will-never-be-the-same-how-the-pandemic-has-changed-worship

2. A Lutheran makes the argument for why we should not do the Lord’s Supper at home during the pandemic. Does his argument hold if we don’t subscribe to the Lutheran understanding of Communion? What is the Lutheran understanding? Wait—what is our understanding of Communion?

https://logia.org/logia-online/faith-love-and-the-lords-supper-in-the-pandemic2020

3. An “advisory opinion” of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on whether it is appropriate to celebrate Communion virtually. Try to read past all of the polity references (i.e., who has authority) to understand what the meaning of the Lord’s Supper normally is in this denominational tradition, and how it can be justified virtually in times of pandemic. Does this perspective from the UCC’s “cousin” in Reformed Christianity help us think about our practice?

https://www.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/oga/pdf/advisory_opinion_communion_in_an_emergency_or_pandemic.pdf

4. A theological historian argues how a 13th-century Catholic theologian might help us think about the Lord’s Supper in pandemic:

https://garynealhansen.com/lords-supper-and-the-coronavirus-wisdom-st-thomas-aquinas/?fbclid=IwAR0LzPxI1XkNrUeSi7V4l9KMfJQmYe-t-HTTp93VIeG0eKIQ2tqZ3wXXZ-U

5. Finally, a “plague song” written by Protestant Reformer Ulrich Zwingli when he was struggling with his own pandemic experience:

https://phs-app-media.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/RefSunday_full_2020.pdf

Character as Social Witness

I had the great pleasure this past Sunday of celebrating World Communion Sunday with Westminster Presbyterian Church in Albany, NY. The topic of my sermon was “Character as Social Witness.” The service was particularly meaningful because joining us at the Table was Rev. Akrong from Westminster’s partner congregation—Greenwich Meridian Church—in Tema, Ghana. Thanks to the Rev. Heather Kirk-Davidoff for the invitation to be part of this meaningful service:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEqXbsJcK54

The Character of Beloved Community

I had the great pleasure of spending last Sunday evening with folks from the Synod of the Trinity, a judicatory of the PC(USA) that includes the congregation in which I was raised. As part of a series on MLK’s vision of Beloved Community, I spoke to a Zoom crowd of 70 pastors and lay persons on forbearance as social witness in a culture of conflict. It was great to share the evening with Susan Wonderland and my longtime friend Michael Wilson—with a number of other old Pennsylvania friends peppering the audience!

“Six Practices” Podcast, Part 2

The second part of the episode “Six Practices that Can Unite Congregations in Times of Disagreement” is now available on the Pastors4Pastors podcast. (Part one can be found here.)

From the description:
In this second of a two-part episode we continue a conversation with James Calvin Davis, religion professor at Middlebury College in Vermont, Presbyterian minister, and the author of a book for just such a time as this: Forbearance: A Theological Ethic for a Disagreeable Church (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2017). Joining the conversation is the Rev. Leeann Scarbrough, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Talladega, Alabama.

Dr. Davis talks about the meaning of forbearance and the six practices that can lead us back to unity even in our disagreement. James is also the author of In Defense of Civility: How Religion Can Unite America on Seven Moral Issues That Divide Us (Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).

We are confident you will find this conversation helpful as you seek to bring unity to your congregation.

Six Practices that Can Unite Congregations

Tune into this episode of my good friend Ken Broman-Fulks’s podcast, Pastors4Pastors, as we talk about Forbearance and the challenges to maintaining community in church and civil society in these tumultuous times. Joining us in the conversation are two other good friends who also happen to be Presbyterian pastors. The Rev. Leeann Scarbrough serves a church in Alabama, and the Rev. Susan Takis pastors in The Villages, a gigantic Florida retirement community where political tensions have made national news.

By the way, some time ago I wrote a piece on the theological importance of friendship that was inspired by time spent with these three amazing people. Ken’s podcast just goes to show that there is some thoughtfulness to this group, to go along with the shared fondness for bourbon.

Part two of our conversation on Forbearance will drop next week!

The Dupe of Leviathan

Some Christians read Revelation 13 as prophecy for the end times. Others interpret it as a highly symbolic commentary on a despotic first-century emperor. A reflection of the past, a prediction for the future, or a play-by-play commentary on our present? Let anyone who has an ear listen:

 

“The beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. It was given authority over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered.”  (Revelation 13:5–8, NRSV)

 

Not for nothing, but January 2017 to June 2020 is forty-two months.

Black Bodies and the Justice of God

To all Christians invested in the struggle for racial justice, I recommend Kelly Brown Douglas’s Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God (Orbis, 2015). Written after the murder of Trayvon Martin, Douglas’s book puts white supremacy in historical perspective, arguing that Christians should acknowledge the complicity of their faith in America’s original sin. At the same time, she offers a compelling theology of witness with this clear theme: the crucified Christ stands in solidarity with black lives still being crucified today.

 

From the book:

 

“It matters that Jesus died on the cross, just as it matters that God freed the Israelites from bondage. For it is only when the least of these are free to achieve the fullness of life that God’s justice will be realized. The profound meaning of God’s preferential option for freedom is seen in God’s solidarity with the crucified class. Their freedom will mark an eradication of all that separates people one from another and thus disengages all people from the goodness of their humanity. Thus, the justice of God also begins from the bottom up. Put simply, it is in the freedom of those who are crucified that one can see the justice of God working in the world” (197).

Closing Our Sanctuaries Is Not a First Amendment Violation

It is an expression of Christian charity

 

Lost in the traumatic aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, including President Trump’s assault on the right to free speech and peaceable assembly, the US Supreme Court issued a ruling on another First Amendment issue late last week. The case involved a church suing the State of California for prohibiting large in-person services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The church argued that assembling as church is a fundamental expression of Christian faith, and that the order to limit gatherings is therefore a violation of the First Amendment. A majority on the Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that the prohibitions on mass gatherings did not constitute a violation of religious freedom.

 

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Remembering the words of James Cone this week

“In a revolutionary situation there can never be nonpartisan theology. Theology is always identified with a particular community. It is either identified with those who inflict oppression or with those who are its victims. A theology of the latter is authentic Christian theology, and a theology of the former is a theology of the Antichrist.”

James H. Cone in A Black Theology of Liberation