Over three months ago, when we closed our church’s doors because of the Coronavirus pandemic, we had to make some quick, difficult decisions. We knew we wanted to offer a livestream service, but we also knew we did not feel comfortable consuming the holy meal without the community of faith gathered. Fortunately, we have a rich traditional of prayers from our Book of Common Prayer, so we switched to Morning Prayer on Sundays. In seminary, I attended Morning Prayer daily, so in some ways, the last many months has been like visiting an old friend. As the officiant, I have often worn my seminary cross as a sign of gratitude for the formation I receive at Virginia Theological Seminary to be able to confidently officiate the service.
But as our diocese gave us permission to begin the regathering process, the liturgical team began to realize we had a conundrum. For the limited number of people who would be able to gather in the space, would we keep offering Morning Prayer, or would we offer communion under the new guidelines? If we offered communion to some, would those watching online feel left out if the livestream was different from the in-person offering? So, like we often do at Hickory Neck, we decided to try an experiment. We still did not want the altar party to consume on screen if no one else could consume with us. But perhaps we could try an offering of “Spiritual Communion”: a service identical to the familiar Holy Eucharist we normally celebrate, but with a special shared prayer instead of actual reception of the body and blood of Christ.
This past Sunday, we gave the experiment a go. Shifting types of services is more complicated than it sounds, especially given the challenges of working with limited technology. My brain was so jumbled with details that when we hit the livestream button, I had not processed the significance of the morning. I put on vestments I have not worn in over three months – vestments I used to wear every week. As the celebrant, I was saying words that I have said countless times in the last ten years. It was only when I elevated the elements, recognizing the muscle memory of my body, that the power of what we were doing hit me. Holy Eucharist is just one of the myriad things that have been taken away from us during this time of social distancing – one of the many comforts that I have grieved in these last months. Despite the fact we were not actually receiving communion, despite the fact the room was still empty minus a camera, despite the fact a hundred little things were different, all of a sudden, I found myself overwhelmed with emotion.
Celebrating Spiritual Communion was not the same as celebrating Holy Eucharist. But celebrating Spiritual Communion felt like a sip of water in a parched land. It was not complete refreshment, but it was reassurance, comfort, and care. It was an unexpected gift from the Holy Spirit in the wilderness of this pandemic. I do not know what our community will decide to do going forward – whether we will keep Morning Prayer or Spiritual Communion, or some combination of the two. In fact, I am hoping our parishioners and viewers will let us know their feedback. This week I am just grateful for a community that is willing to experiment – to try, to fail, to learn, and to grow. That commitment to playful creativity has always been a joy; during this pandemic it is salve to our open wounds. Thanks be to God! And thank you, Hickory Neck!