A globe-crossing consecration

February 3, 2011

I've said before that celebrating communion via Twitter (to make "a
statement that we're prepared to embrace the technological revolution") seems
like an especially poor use of technology. But Lisa Nichols Hickman brings up a techno-sacramental innovation
that's at least somewhat more compelling: using Skype to commune with
Christians across the globe, especially in isolated and conflict-torn places.

The Conflict Kitchen is a public art project and
restaurant in Pittsburgh that serves only food from countries with which the
U.S. is in conflict. After visiting the restaurant, Nichols Hickman writes

One of the events [the Conflict Kitchen] highlight[s] is
a live
Skype meal
between a group of strangers seated at tables in
Pittsburgh and in Tehran.  Sharing the same meal and conversation across
seven time zones, strangers became acquainted with each other over broken
bread.  Even more importantly, they shared the same hope for peace.

And so I wondered, and ask the same of you, would it be
blasphemous to Skype communion with Christians in a country across the
globe?  Could Christians in Raleigh and Rwanda find encouragement from
each other at the table? . . . .

Blasphemers might argue that Skyping communion is
spectacle over Sacrament: webcams, language barriers and other details are
impediments to the Word heard and act engaged. Technology aside, perhaps the
real argument is the nature of communion within community.  Far from being
exotic, maybe it is putting up with the mundane within a known community that
makes real communion.  What would be sacrificed via Skype is real
relationship.  Technology makes the sacrament sterile and simple to the
point that communion becomes sentimental rather than an act of reconciliation.

But those who argue breakthrough might say that the
Skyped communion is a first step beyond stereotypes and the capacity of nations
to create 'others'.  Sitting down at the table, even through a webcam,
creates the possibility for new community where bread is broken across national
lines, language barriers, time zones and war decrees.  The other, joined
with bread, becomes brother.

I'm not convinced; I can't get
past the considerable gap between "gathered community" and "electronically
connected people." But this does strike me as far more serious an idea that the
Twitcharist example. The goal is nobler (global bridge-building vs. showing off
the church's tech savvy). As for the medium, it's real-time verbal and visual
communication--even face to face in some
real sense--and so is vulnerable and present in a way following a Twitter feed
is not.

In any case, using Skype to break bread with/"with" other
Christians across national conflict lines has powerful possibilities--even if
you have a celebrant at each end, or simply have a meal instead of communion.

What do you think?


Steve, I like this idea with

Steve, I like this idea with the caveat that the Skyped communion be repeated regularly between the same far-flung communicants so that they learn to see each other as sisters and brothers. I wouldn't like it if it were a one-off event. That smacks of spectacle.

Ongoing thoughts

What is fascinating about this conversation is how technology might serve as a bridge between generations.

While Skype may seem relevant for today's young adults and youth, the folks who might benefit most from this are older adults who have less mobility.

For example, as our prayers for Egypt rise this week - I think of numerous men and women from our church in their 70's and 80's in our church who served as missionaries in Egypt.

While a 'prayer service' over Skype would serve the purpose of connecting those long separated (mission workers and Egyptian friends), the sacrament of communion elevates the bond they share in Christ.

Maybe the first planned Skype communion should be for our elders.

in every time and place, with or without the webcam

One phrase I use regularly when inviting the congregation to the communion table is that here we break bread with followers of Christ "in every time and place."

Jesus said, "where two or three are gathered..." Nowadays, two or three are as likely to gather in an electronically-mediated environment, even in their own homes. My wife has called me to bed before using a dm on Twitter or a text message because it's quieter and more effective than shouting downstairs, and it doesn't wake our child.

For those whose lives and relationships include an on-line component, social networking software is a tool, nothing more. Communion via webcam,like electronic communication generally, may not be as intimate or personal as face-to-face, but there's no reason to think it blasphemous if we really believe the Eucharist unites Christians in every time and place even when the webcam is off.