Since the time of the Reformation, there has been a wide liturgical variety in the ways that clergy and people have celebrated the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and a wide theological diversity in the ways that we have understood, spoken and written about Holy Communion. However differently we have behaved and thought, though, we have by God’s grace held together within an Anglican eucharistic settlement which has been an enormous source of strength to us all. The past twelve months of the pandemic have tested this settlement by posing new questions in at least two dimensions: firstly, through the restrictions which have had to be imposed, including throughout the withholding of the common cup, and at some times the impossibility of gathering for any in-person worship; secondly, through the remarkable growth in online celebrations, including broadcast celebrations of Holy Communion.
On one level, these new challenges could be seen as a threat to the quite fragile settlement within which we have lived heretofore; but at the same time, they have also opened up new opportunities for reflecting on the meaning of what we are doing and what we are receiving in this great sacrament. As we reassemble physically in our churches in this Easter season, and as we rejoice at the renewed prospect of joining in Holy Communion with one another, I therefore warmly invite you to join in an online programme of teaching and learning about the Eucharist. In the first place, recognising the particular responsibilities that we carry in relation to the sacrament, this is an invitation to licensed and PtO clergy, as my fellow priests and deacons; but do please feel free to share any or all of the programme’s materials with lay ministers and with the wider membership of your churches.
I am delighted that my seven brother and sister bishops have all gladly agreed to participate in this through contributing their own perspectives on a number of different aspects of Holy Communion. Certainly between ourselves we will exhibit plenty of variety in thought and practice, but we all rejoice that we share together in episcopal ministry in this diocese, we all count our unity in the fellowship of Christ’s Body a precious thing, and we all want to honour our Anglican patterns of worship even as we explore their range. During the nine weeks from 11th April to 12th June, each of us will be providing a pre-recorded teaching video talk of about 20-30 minutes on different aspects of the Eucharist, under the general title of ‘Bread of Life’. In addition, I will also be hosting two online Zoom seminars for those interested in taking the conversation further on particular issues. These will be on: Thursday 6th May, 2pm-4pm and Thursday 3rd June, 2pm-4pm. Dr Matthew Salisbury, the Church of England’s National Liturgy & Worship Adviser, will be joining us for these seminars, and I am grateful to him for his advice and support in planning this programme.
During the nine weeks of ‘Bread of Life’, each bishop will take as the focus of their week one of nine dimensions of Holy Communion, drawn from a 2003 report of the Methodist Church called ‘His Presence Makes the Feast’. They are as follows:
|Life in unity (koinonia)||+Michael, Bishop of Lichfield||13 April||script (pdf)|
|Thanksgiving (Eucharist)||+Clive, Bishop of Wolverhampton||20 April||script (pdf)|
|Remembering (anamnesis)||+Rod, Bishop of Maidstone||27 April||script (pdf)|
|Sacrifice||+Jonathan, Bishop of Ebbsfleet||4 May||script (pdf)|
|Presence||+Matthew, Bishop of Stafford||11 May||script (pdf)|
|The work of the Spirit (epiclesis)||+Jan, Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Lichfield||18 May||script (pdf)|
|Anticipation (eschatology)||+Alistair, Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Lichfield||25 May||script (pdf)|
|Mission and justice||+Sarah, Bishop of Shrewsbury||1 June||script (pdf)|
|Personal devotion||+Michael, Bishop of Lichfield||8 June||script (pdf)|
The seminar from 6 May with with theologian Reverend Professor Canon Loveday Alexander and Dr Matthew Salisbury, the Church of England’s National Liturgy & Worship Adviser, can be viewed below: