In putting together some liturgy for St Bride’s Liverpool to use in our livestreamed services that I’m doing from home for Holy Week and Easter, I’ve written some material with a particular focus on the unusual circumstances in which we are gathering online. I offer them here in case they are of any use to anyone else. Feel free to use/adapt as you see fit.
They are all my own compositions apart from the Closing Affirmation, which was written by Steven Shakespeare originally for when our children and young people go out to their groups during our services, but which we then realised works perfectly for this situation too.
I’ve ended up live streaming a morning prayer service daily, and communion on Sunday, from my home. I’ve been very struck by how present those who join me on line feel, and how present I feel to them. Seeing their faces and names appear on my tablet throughout the service, with their comments, input, and little ‘likes’ or ‘loves’ or ‘sad’ faces floating up the screen like bubbles, makes the whole thing feel not at all like a broadcast but rather a genuine expression of community.
This isn’t ‘virtual’ church as opposed to ‘in real life’ church – it is totally real, just with different physical space being involved. I think it helps being live, as it makes the service genuinely interactive. People contribute thoughts on the readings – this is our usual practice at St Bride’s – and also contribute prayer requests, by typing them in as a comment. Everyone who is following can see and respond not just to me but to others.
Several people have asked what we are doing about communion. I’m presiding fairly normally at home, and my family are communicants (though in this extremis I’d have no qualms about presiding if I were at home alone – it passes the ‘desert island’ hypothetical question test for me!). I personally have a fairly high sacramental view of communion, though the trappings are unimportant to me, and I’m in a church that broadly speaking has a fairly low one, so this seems to work for all of us!
I am encouraging people to have something to eat or drink at home – not to get bread and wine necessarily, I’m in no way purporting to consecrate over the ether – but to eat and drink together while I do so, as an expression of our unity and community. It’s very clear from Paul’s letters that in the early church communion was a common meal as much as a ritual and sacrament, and consciously eating and drinking together is a good expression of that.
Up til now I’ve been using the Lent liturgy we already had, but at this point it seemed right to compose some new material that reflects the particular and peculiar dynamic of this livestreamed expression of church. I hope they are of use.
We come into this time and space and offer ourselves,
Our time, these moments of stillness to God.
we leave aside, for this while,
our cares and concerns
our fears and frustrations.
Or, if we cannot lay them aside,
we bring them with us into this space
And offer them to God.
God, who in Jesus
could hold stillness at the centre of the crowd’s adulation,
calm in the face of a friend’s betrayal
and silence before the questioning of power,
Be with us in our involuntary stillness this holy week.
Help us, we pray, to embrace it,
to allow ourselves to be challenged by it,
And to encounter you afresh in it.
An alternative gathering:
We gather today as one body
from the many places where God gives us shelter for this season.
In the light of Christ’s resurrection
We commit ourselves afresh to one another and to God.
We humble ourselves to serving the world through our stillness.
We content ourselves with the inner freedom of the Spirit.
The risen Christ came and stood among his disciples,
in a locked room,
where they sheltered from the crowds that they feared.
Meeting them there, where they were,
He said, ‘peace be with you’.
The peace of the risen Christ be always with you.
And also with you.
Preparation of the Table
We gather as God’s people, in our different places,
around this table of our communion.
We bring bread, knowing our need to be fed,
And aware that many are hungry.
We bring wine, knowing our need for joy,
And aware that many are lonely.
We bring ourselves, trusting that you will take and share
Our time, our talents, and our treasures,
And make them enough.
Post communion prayer
May we who have shared in the reality of our communion
Without being physically present to one another
Know the reality of your presence with us always.
May we who are living in this time of brokenness and separation
Know your wholeness in our hearts and in our communities.
May we who hunger for a time when we may be together again
Feed a world hungry for love and justice.
Closing Affirmation (by Steven Shakespeare)
In the circle of God’s love, we are one:
The circle is never broken.
In the light of God’s welcome, we are one:
the light never goes out.
Let the child teach us the wisdom of play.
Let the adult teach us the gentleness of care.
May the circle surround us when we are apart.
May the light draw us together again.