Last week, I wrote about Starbucks’ Green Apron Book and asked whether the 5 Principles that Starbucks’ employees are trained to follow might guide the church in its efforts to establish and maintain a presence on social networking platforms. That post prompted some great discussion, not only about social media (in fact, mostly NOT about social media) but about broader topics such as the art of creating experiences, whether other comparisons between Starbucks and the church are valid, and even whether or not they have good coffee. I agree, the jury’s out on that last one, but I’d also argue that people aren’t paying $4 for coffee (a product) – they’re paying for coffee PLUS the experience (or at least, in the case of drive-thru customers, the emotional connection with the brand).
But it was Jerry’s comment that sparked today’s post: “Let me know when you figure out how to celebrate the Eucharist on the social media.”
There are the mechanics of ‘figuring it out,’ but what I think Jerry was getting at are the bigger questions and issues. Before we launch into a big discussion or debate, what I’d like for you (reader) to help me do is identify the important questions. Let’s start there. Then I think we’ll have a better discussion.
One place to look for the questions is online. Some churches are already celebrating Communion there – evangelicals in multi-site mega-churches experimenting with online church and Communion, yes; but also Methodists and Anglicans, and probably some Presbyterians. Maybe even Disciples!
In reading around (see the list at the end of this post), here are some of the issues and questions that come up. Some of these don’t apply to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), but they’re worth knowing about. These are specifically about Communion, not the broader topic of online church.
- The need for participation to happen in the context of a physical community (I’m deliberately staying away from using the word ‘real’ here) such as a Sunday morning worship service in a church.
- The amount of need for control over who can participate (members of that particular church or denomination only? any baptized believer? anyone?)
- The role of the clergy or celebrants with regard to the sacraments (Do celebrants have to consecrate the elemants? Online, is BYObread-and-juice ok? What about a ‘virtual’ sacrament, like in Second Life?)
- What is Communion all about in the first place? Is it a ‘love feast’? A memorial? Is Christ present, and if so, how? Is it a means of receiving grace and forgiveness?
Some practical considerations:
- People who can’t get to church (i.e. homebound, institutionalized, incarcerated, those with disabilities, etc)
- What happens when public health concerns or natural disasters force people to stay home? My experience with online Communion was with a Disciples congregation dispersed across several states in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
- Might participating in online church (and Communion) lead someone who otherwise would not go to church to eventually connect with a local congregation? Or does it keep people from coming to a brick-and-mortar church by aiming to replace it?
- What about those whom the church has hurt? Or those from whom the church has distanced itself?
Theological considerations (beyond those surrounding Communion):
- In most of the discussions I’ve seen, the predominant theological question seems to be “What is church?”
- A less-discussed theological topic is “Where is God in this?”
Help me out here….what other questions should be in the mix?
I hope you’ll follow some of these links and read what others have written, and then come back and add your questions:
Rev. Thomas Madron’s site (click on the PDF link to read his paper in favor on online Communion…written from a Methodist perspective but still fairly relevant for Disciples)
Lifechurch.tv – a multi-site evangelical church that also offers an online worship experience, with Communion.
Newsweek’s Belief Watch: “Click in Remembrance of Me?”
This post by John Saddington on Church Crunch, about Online Church, which includes several helpful links.
An interesting discussion in ChurchCrunch’s Forums