None of us predicted we would be where we are by the middle of June. Our premises are still closed and most of us have acquired some new skills in social media. Back when the lockdown started, there was an intense online discussion (mainly among clergy, to be fair) about the provision of Holy Communion in an era of social distancing. A few denominations quickly approved online celebrations and some Methodist Churches in other parts of the world were quick to follow. Now that Church Councils are beginning conversations about the possibility of reopening premises, some have already taken the decision to remain closed until September at the earliest. That will mean over five months without public worship (and therefore without a celebration of the Lord’s Supper).
In ‘normal’ circumstances, this would constitute ‘Eucharistic Deprivation’, a curious Methodist phrase that is rarely used outside official reports and committees. I want to offer my own personal thoughts and reflections on this situation.
HEALTH WARNING: THIS DOES NOT NECESSARILY REPRESENT THE OFFICIAL POSITION OF THE METHODIST CHURCH IN GB OR ANY COMMITTEE OR EMPLOYER.
In ‘normal’ circumstances, Holy Communion would be a public act of worship, conducted in a Methodist chapel and presided over by an ordained Presbyter in Full Connexion. It is important to remember that the Presbyter presides over the celebration of the people. It is the community of faith that is the celebrant, not the Presbyter.
Since Methodist Union in 1932, our denomination has worked to a set of principles regarding the Sacraments, but with a pragmatism that recognises the resources we have. In 1946, the Conference received a Report on the Lay Administration of the Sacraments which included these affirmations: -
There are two divinely appointed sacraments - Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Provision for their orderly and regular celebration must therefore be made.
The general usage (in the Methodist Church) is that ministers* should normally preside.
The principle of duly authorised lay administration is upheld.
* - for minister read presbyter in this instance.
Since that time, the British Conference has never bee