Magazine article The Christian Century

Methodists Mull Whether to Allow Online Communion

Magazine article The Christian Century

Methodists Mull Whether to Allow Online Communion

Article excerpt

AS ONLINE WORSHIP becomes more common in some churches, leaders within the United Methodist Church are debating whether the denomination should condone online communion.

About 30 denominational leaders met in early October after Central United Methodist Church in Concord, North Carolina, announced plans to launch an online campus that potentially would offer online communion.

Some nondenominational churches already offer online communion, according to United Methodist News Service, but leaders urged the denomination's bishops to call for a moratorium on the practice and do further study of online ministries.

The majority of the leaders agreed with the statement that communion "en tails the actual tactile sharing of bread and wine in a service that involves people corporeally together in the same place." Not everyone, however, agreed that congregants must be in the same place.

The debate raises fundamental questions at the heart of the church experience: the definition of community, individual participation, the role of tradition and basic theological understandings of the meaning of communion.

United Methodists practice open communion, meaning all who worship are invited to partake. Many churches celebrate communion once a month, though each church decides how often to serve it.

A move toward accepting online communion might be inevitable in some quarters, given the denomination's history, said Mark Tooley, a Methodist who is president of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy.

"Methodists have a long history of pragmatism, which might make them a little more susceptible," Tooley said.

Communion takes on different forms among various Christian denominations, but it generally involves the reenactment of Jesus' Last Supper by taking bread and wine (or, as the UMC prefers, unfermented grape juice).

Also called the Eucharist or the Lord's Supper, many Protestants see the rite as an expression of faith rather than the reception of the body and blood of Jesus, as the Catholic Church teaches.

Many churches have launched online options for church activities, including worship, seminary, ordination counseling and financial giving. …

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