A longer post than usual - This is my explanation of why performing communion on the Internet is not only justifiable, but an integral part of the Church's ministry.
I seem to have created a bit of a storm in the Communion cup with my proposal to perform Communion on Twitter. It has certainly created controversy in the Methodist Church in spite of a huge amount of support for the project and only one personal letter of criticism (which was based upon a misunderstood comment by a journalist, as it turned out).
The chief allegation came from one corner of the Methodist Church who claimed it was “not a valid communion”. The main objection relates to what I would call “Remote Communion". This is where those receiving bread and wine do so at the same time as but are not located in the same place as the celebrant - they take their own bread and wine after the (broadcast) communion prayer. This, it was said, made the act of communion disembodied.
As I see it, the issue boils down to two questions:
Is remote communion a valid communion?
Is the Christian community on the internet a valid, gathered Christian community?
If the answer to both these questions is “yes”, then a communion service performed for such a community of believers must be valid and may be performed.
First, we can appeal to the many Biblical texts which make it clear that Christ is everywhere present with all believers and that, in spite of differences in some beliefs and practice, there is only one Body of Christ. This is enshrined in the Nicene Creed and many communion liturgies. When we celebrate communion, we ask that God, in the power of the Holy Spirit, bless all the elements involved to everyone participating.
If Christ is with all believers everywhere, there is no particular reason why all the elements and participants in a communion must be in the same room.To say God’s blessing is restricted to the physical space in which the presiding minister is present places limitations on the working of God’s grace and power. It also suggests the power of God to bless His people in Communion can ONLY work through an intermediary - which I believe is contrary to the teaching of the Bible.
A key point is the words of Jesus who said, "Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I with them." In other words, wherever there is a gathered community of believers, whether in a single geographical location or in the Spirit, they should not be hindered from sharing bread and wine together. If two or three believers are joined in the Spirit through prayer, Christ is with them.
Holy Communion is a corporate celebration for a gathered community, but it's the presence of God in Christ that makes them a gathered community, not a geographical location. Members of Internet communities like Facebook, Twitter and forums have a real sense of community belonging and see themselves as a part of a real, tangible communities. In fact for unknown numbers, the Internet is their only source of fellowship, and the Christian community there is their only Church. Christ is truly present among believers gathered for fellowship on the Internet, as a gathered body of believers surely they deserve every form of ministry the Christian Church offers, including it's most significant feast.
The astounding success of the Internet communion celebrated in the Parish of Luss in Scotland is testimony to the fact that it can be accepted with all the gravity and seriousness communion requires (www.lussonline.net). Here, Communion via the Internet is not a technological novelty – it is essential for believers in the remote islands and highlands who would otherwise be unable to participate. Very shortly after launching it's Internet communion service Luss discovered that they were getting up to 10,000 taking part. Among these were worshippers isolated from any form of fellowship in the Australian outback by a five-hour journey. For them, the little church thousands of miles away in Scotland was their church, and sharing their own bread and wine the only means for communion.
I have accepted a gracious invitation from Rev Sherrard, to go and share in one of his broadcast communion services in the hope of restoring some of the lost faith in Methodism. When the date for this event is fixed, I'll post it here and on the Twitter Communion website (www.twittercommunion.co.uk)
I'm sure that some will think I undertook to perform communion on the Internet naively. To them I would say this: In Christ we are all one. If it takes a little naivety on our part to bear witness to this fact to the world, then may the Lord teach us how to be naive.
PS. There will be a replacement service to Twitter Communion on August 14th at 22.00 BST. Prayers for Unity and Vision. Details on the website. Please join in if you are able.