May 04, 2020
Beloved in Christ:
Greetings in the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, I have been involved in deep conversation with several colleagues here and overseas regarding virtual Holy Communion. I must say it has been fascinating and theologically intriguing!
Needless to say, this circle is truly ecumenical!
However, an article by United Methodist News, “Both Green Light, Red Light for Online Communion,” (Sam
Hodges, United Methodist News, April 30, 2020) and the responses to it made me reflect more deeply and theologically on virtual Holy Communion.
Independent of this, in the last 48 hours I also received an email, a text, and a WhatsApp message from three different colleagues that pushed me to rethink my stance.
Through prayerful discernment, I am hearing that we need to allow our clergy to be compassionate shepherds to their parishioners.
Struggling with my discernment, I was drawn to a comment made by Dr. Jan Love, Dean of the Candler School of Theology and an ecumenist whom I deeply admire.
She quotes Brian McLaren who said, “In the world of organized religion, we’re in a time of great upheaval. We don’t face mere technical challenges ... we face adaptive challenges. This isn’t just a matter of slight tweaks; this is a matter of rethinking the entire system of what we’re doing from scratch.” (Taken from UMNS, “McLaren urges churches to get into alignment,” Oct. 17, 2018)
I was also reminded of the lectures by one of my professors, Dr. John Deschner, who offered vital leadership in preparing the famous World Council of Churches Lima document “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry.”
In one of his lectures, he asked us to look at Dr. John Macquarrie’s definition of theology, which reads, “Theology may be defined as the study which, through participation in and reflection upon a religious faith, seeks to express the content of this faith in the clearest and most coherent language available.” (John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology, Second Edition, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977, p.1). Then he paused, looked at us students, and said, ”Now write these words next to this definition in parenthesis: “for its own time.”
Friends, considering all of this and not knowing how long the effects of COVID-19 will prevent us from gathering in person in our churches, I am offering all pastors permission to celebrate online Holy Communion Services only till we get through this crisis. Until that time, it is my prayer that all the clergy of the New England Conference will show compassion to the congregations according to their conscience and pastoral instincts in deciding to celebrate virtual eucharist.
I need to confess that my pride tried to stop me from writing this, but I was reminded of the words of one of my mentors, Bishop Violet L. Fisher, who said eloquently in one of our Cabinet meetings, “Suda, do as the Spirit leads you.”
It is under the inspiration of this Spirit that I offer this letter to you.
In Christ’s love,
Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar