A collision of thoughts

Posted 20 November 2009 by

It can be interesting looking at the wreckage after two thoughts collide.

Back in 1977, I was taking a class on the history of the American City from Dr. Donald Oster (now an associate professor emeritus) at the then-University of Missouri-Rolla.  At the start of class one day, he told us of a discussion the History faculty was having on the nature of civilization. All agreed that cities were necessary part of civilization in order to communicate ideas.

(From coursework with Dr. Wayne Bledsoe, I also knew what really was the earliest profession. There is the need to store grain products before people can live in community. Therefore, a brew master is the oldest profession. “What you are thinking is actually the second oldest profession.”)

The question of the faculty was discussing involved whether people will need to live in cities (live in community) in the future in order for civilization to exist because of advances in communication.

At this time, I did not have a clue about electronic mail. There were occasional communications problems in the University of Missouri Computer Network connecting all four campuses and several other sites. A backhoe cut the AT&T network line, leaving the public radio station in Rolla disconnected from National Public Radio.

A lot has happened to communications and electronics in 35 years.

Not too many years later, the Episcopal Ad Project was started in Minneapolis in 1979. An ad I first remember seeing in the early 1980s had this advertising copy:

With all due regard to TV Christianity, have you ever seen a Sony that gives Holy Communion?

One of my more quick-witted Lutheran friends responded, “Yes, a Trinitron.”


Humorous comments aside, this ad brought out one very clear difference between the local versus electronic church: the possibility of physical human contact.

(Today the Episcopal Ad Project is still going, renamed the Church Ad Project.)

Today there are major differences.

Because of a comment to an article on an earlier version of Wil Wheaton’s personal blog, we exchanged e-mail messages a few years ago about something Patrick Stewart said at a 1990 Trek convention in Vancouver, British Columbia. I doubt very seriously Wheaton remembers it.

Because of responding to a tweet from Scott Simon, we exchanged comments a few months ago about Elijah Parish Lovejoy. There is a chance Simon remembers this and who I am because of how recent it was, but I doubt I am the most memorable person he has met in any format.

This type of communication can give a false sense of community. I’ve seen Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation thousands of times. That means I know Wil Wheaton personally, right? Oh, yea. It’s called “acting.”

So, maybe I know more about Wheaton personally by following him on Twitter and reading his blog? He would tell me everything on-line that he would tell a personal friend, right? Then why doesn’t he follow me in return on Twitter?

That being said, what about that Sony serving Communion in the 21st Century?

Mars Hill, based in Seattle, worships at 10 locations. Most are in or near Seattle. One is about 60 miles away in Olympia, Washington. Another location is in Albuquerque, New Mexico. While some parts of the service are led locally, all of these locations see the same sermon using a video link.

The Family Life Center, in spite of what the website says, is not in Seattle. Locations of what is claimed to be the largest church in Washington are in Federal Way and Everett. Video connects these two locations.

Trinity Lutheran Church, Lynnwood, Washington, has opened a second location in Mukilteo at the former Harbour Pointe Lutheran Church. While there is not normally a live connection between locations, a video connection using Skype was used the first day of services in Mukilteo, now called Pointe of Grace. The idea was to show that it is one parish in two locations.

I have a question about something. While I think I have an answer to it, I’m not sure. Lets ask this for a specific instance, rather than something general.

Would it be right for a single pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church to celebrate a communion service celebrated at the Lynnwood and Mukilteo locations at the same time using a video connection?

In the Lutheran tradition, the pastor saying the Words of Institution over the bread and wine is what is necessary to consecrate the elements into the Body and Blood of Christ. In this case, there is no separation by time. I don’t think Luther or Melanchthon said anything about separation by space, but am willing to be corrected.

Before immediately rejecting communion via video extension, would you reject the validity if the bread and wine was at several tables around the same room?

The Episcopal Church has this question settled at the moment. The Book of Common Prayer currently requires the celebrant to hold or lay a hand upon the elements during the Words of Institution. The question of communion by video extension will come up one day, though.

Today my personal feelings is that the celebrant or celebrants must be in the same room. It is hard to say you are partaking the same meal if you are at different locations. It lacks a common community.

Some things about this nag me. I have had more of a community experience with Wil Wheaton and Scott Simon through electronic communication—as little as that may have been—than I would have had with most other communicants when visiting a congregation in another state.

I have received personal support through direct messages in Twitter.

Prayers reach across time and space to God. Doesn’t God reach back through that same time and space?

It is time to start thinking about this. The capabilities that my college professors talked about 30 years ago is here now. Do we have to be physically together to share communion in a community?

What say you?

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