GEN-X RISING: Can we really celebrate Holy Communion online?

By Andrew C. Thompson
UMR Columnist

Do you have to be present in worship to receive Holy Communion?

That question seems to have an obvious answer: Of course! How could anyone partake in the Lord’s Supper without actually worshipping in the same room where the bread and cup are broken and blessed?

But there is a new movement afoot in the church that advocates for Internet-based Holy Communion. Lisa Miller describes a number of different churches and pastors who are providing Web-based Eucharistic services in a Nov. 3 Newsweek article, “Click in Remembrance of Me.”

She tells the story of a couple who receive Communion in the comfort of their living room by eating a scrap of bagel and a sip of Crystal Light, all while watching a streaming video of worship happening elsewhere via the Internet.

One of these Web-based offerings, “A United Methodist Celebration of Holy Communion on the Web,” is at

Created by a retired Methodist pastor, the Web site claims that it wants “to make Holy Communion available in the most inclusive way possible.”

The site explains: “Although we strongly encourage you to find a church in which to take Holy Communion, the great advantage of doing so over the Web is that you can participate in Holy Communion ‘as needed’ or ‘on demand.’”

So “worshipers” are invited to click on a series of screens that walk them through a Service of Word and Table, where a recorded voice says the liturgy, and the person visiting the site online is told to handle the elements in the appropriate way.

Is this really the sacrament?

Problems abound. The “on demand” Holy Communion is not Holy Communion at all.

The Web-based Eucharist is not live. The “celebrant” is just a disembodied voice playing through your computer. And all the rubrics of the Word and Table service are ignored: There is no actual elder laying hands on the bread and cup, no congregation present and no liturgy enacted in the context of the church’s worship of God.

Such a practice isn’t just wrong—it’s dangerous.

When the church bows to such radical individualism, it destroys the community that God intends for it to be. And in giving the concept “inclusiveness” a canonical status, we turn the Eucharist from a gift into a commodity. It can be demanded at any time and place, and the church is rendered literally unnecessary.

The church should have little sympathy for people who aren’t willing to make the time to physically attend and participate in the Holy Communion service. Those who won’t make the commitment to be present in worship do not meet the bare minimum requirement of discipleship.

And telling them that the most central means of grace the church can offer is available to them on demand—as individuals, in their living rooms—is simply irresponsible.

There is one argument for online Communion that carries a little more weight. For sick or homebound church members, Web-based Communion has an advantage: allowing them to “commune” even when confined to their beds.

But this, too, has problems. If an able-bodied person avoiding church denotes a certain laziness on the part of the individual, then denying Communion to a homebound person denotes laziness on the part of the church itself.

The answer here isn’t Communion over the Internet. It is instead a type of ministry so basic it is often neglected: pastoral visitation.
And this is not a ministry of ordained pastors only, but of laity as well. Our Book of Discipline instructs that elders should “select and train laity to distribute the consecrated Communion elements as soon as feasible to sick or homebound persons following a service of Word and Table” (1117.9). In this way, the worship of the whole community is brought to the shut-in physically through the church’s ministry of pastoral care.

But Communion with a scrap of bagel and a sip of Crystal Light?

That’s not a sacrament. It’s just a snack.

The Rev. Thompson maintains a blog at - See more at:


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