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Letters to the Editor

28 January 2022


The Burridge rite, digital theology, and reverence

From the Revd Simon Rundell

Sir, — It appears that Canon Professor Burridge’s article (Comment, 21 January), based presumably on his book Holy Communion in Contagious Times, has made fundamental errors on current thinking about and research into the discipline of digital theology, and leads us away not only from the Church of England Bishops’ guidance, but also from the positions of our ecumenical colleagues. The Methodist Church, for example, explicitly has rejected the form of remote communion which he advocates, which is described by digital theologians as “communion online”.

Canon Burridge uses the internet here as a means of communication, a form of fancy telephone conversation, which is very different from the creation of a sacred space within digital space: the internet as a place of being — the Metaverse, to use Facebook’s probably copyrighted term. Even using terms such as “cyberspace” suggests that his experience and thinking come from a pre-Web 2.0 era, when we thought broadband was still a pretty cool thing.

A eucharist in a small church, a large cathedral, a Greenbelt field, or the vast St Peter’s Square all share a sacred space, whereas Zoom, Twitch, Facebook Live, or YouTube break that sacred space with the glass and the WiFi, and we are left with a possible outcome that I, as a celebrant, and my worldwide Zoom congregation need not actually gather in a glorified webinar, but we all could remain in bed on a Sunday morning and just think that we had engaged in the eucharistic feast. This will not do.

Within digital space, an immersive 3D lived environment, gathering and forming sacred space is possible, and online communion the sharing of digital sacraments in digital space — becomes a genuine sacrament. Bread and wine before your laptop do not make it the eucharist, no matter what the intention of the priest on the other side might be.

Until 3D immersive environments become common and widespread, the Bishops’ advice remains correct: spiritual communion is a valid form of eucharistic encounter for a community disjointed by contagious times to sustain the body of Christ until we gather again, in person or in pixels. Through pixels is not enough, and this article is in danger of leading the worldwide Church astray. It does not accord with current thinking within digital theology.

MA in Digital Theology
The Vicarage, 33 Leat Walk
Plymouth, PL6 7AT

From the Revd Richard A. Seabrook SSC

Sir, — At the start of the pandemic, I was grateful that the Bishops of the diocese in Europe issued the advice of the National Communications team regarding avoiding the idea of remote consecration of the elements in a streamed service of holy communion. Communion online is valid, says Burridge” (News, 21 January). As a priest in the diocese in Europe, I was grateful for the clear pronouncements of my bishops on this matter, as bishops of the Church, as opposed to the personal view of Professor Burridge regarding such celebrations.

Professor Burridge’s view is highly problematical and, in my view, wrong. As a minister of the sacraments, the priest has a duty to ensure that the celebration of holy communion is carried out with due dignity and respect for the consecrated elements. If Professor Burridge’s private view were to gain a wider acceptance, I would be concerned that the rubrics of the Prayer Book would be ignored: “If any remain of that which was consecrated, it shall not be carried out of the Church, but the Priest and such other of the Communicants . . . immediately after the Blessing, reverently eat and drink the same.”

What checks and balances would there be if, believing such consecration has taken place (which I don’t), that the “consecrated” elements would be treated with dignity and respect? What would stop someone sharing these with others at a later date, believing they are receiving the Blessed Sacrament? To take it to the extreme, what would stop a Satanist taking such “elements” and using them for blasphemous purposes?

I wonder whether Professor Burridge has even thought of the consequences of his opinion. The priest’s being physically present and having oversight is vital for any celebration of the eucharist to ensure absolute propriety regarding the consecrated elements. A suggestion of remote consecration further downgrades Church of England eucharistic theology at all levels.

This theology Professor Burridge takes to an unacceptable conclusion: “To encompass the screen with all the people I can see, upon whom I wish the Holy Spirit to fall.” May I humbly suggest that the Professor Burridge is not the arbiter of those upon whom he wishes the third Person of the Holy Trinity to descend?

Calle Manuel de Falla 240
03169 Algorfa
Alicante, Spain

From the Revd Andrew Roland

Sir, — I read with great interest Canon Burridge’s article on the validity of online communion. At Easter 2020, I conducted just such a communion for folk in my Bible-study group, much appreciated by everyone. Within 24 hours, the Area Dean sent me a sharp email reminding me of the canons of the Church of England. So I stopped.

As a (somewhat) obedient Anglican with permission to officiate, I wondered what I could do for the simple midweek service that I lead online. I realised that there are possibilities within the wider Church as well as the Jewish faith, namely artoklasia and kiddush. There was no objection to that.

Artoklasia, or breaking of bread, is similar to an agape, and is a respected Orthodox tradition. Indeed, every Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in Jerusalem ends with an artoklaisia in the Greek Melkite Catholic Cathedral. Bread is broken and shared as a sign of fellowship, with a prayer echoing the Didache’s phrase: “Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together. . .” In my Zoom service, we use this prayer, say the blessing, and eat the bread as we say the peace to each other in our separate Zoom windows.

The kiddush cup is a Jewish practice of ending the sabbath morning service with an affirmation of life. Since both my father and Jesus were Jewish, I feel comfortable with that. I specially value it because it enables me to use my family’s 18th-century kiddush cup. It’s a great way to end our reflections and prayers to say the blessing: “Blessed are you O Lord our God, king of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine. Blessed be God for ever,” raising our glasses together as we say “L’chaim!” — “To life!” — and then, of course, getting our coffees.

100 Philbeach Gardens
London SW5 9ET

Ditch strategies and slogans in a time of fragility

From the Revd Andrew Lightbown

Sir, — I read Dr Eve Poole’s article “Leadership requires a range of modes” (Comment, 14 January) with considerable interest.

There can be no doubt that our institutions at the national, regional, and local level are fragile, and that the behaviour of many within our institutions is highly volatile. The Church is no different, as the pages of the Church Times reveal. Understanding and working with fragility and volatility is, at least to my mind, the greatest challenge facing leaders at present. Strategy and straplines are not the answer.

The Church perhaps requires two things, above all others, from its leaders: warmth and wisdom. In these challenging times, we need our institutions as never before, and yet, ironically, they are under pressure as never before. The “good” church leader needs to accept and work with this reality, exercising power and authority sapientially, wisely, and warmly, sitting lightly to top-down strategy and straplines as tools of a bygone era.

The Vicarage, Winslow
Buckinghamshire MK18 3BJ

Distance needed from slimming programmes

From the Revd Helen Lynch

Sir, — The Revd Katherine Magdalene Price asks what we in the Church of England can learn from Slimming World (Features, Podcast, 14 January), and concludes that it offers us a model of transformation by grace: “accountability undergirded by unconditional affirmation”.

I would argue that it offers a shame-based model, backed up by the multi-billion-pound diet and wellness industries. Diet culture is so pervasive that it is taken as “gospel” that to be in a larger body is bad and unhealthy, a “fact” that is being debunked as new research picks apart previous science — much of which was funded by diet companies.

Ms Price acknowledges the worries about eating disorders, but fails to understand that slimming programmes also trigger a range of disordered forms of behaviour around food, not least weight cycling, which damages the body much more than being fat.

I’m sure that if the Christian Church followed the diet-culture model, and spent billions of pounds convincing people that they were unworthy of happiness, love, fulfilment, and family, and that we alone had the key to success in changing ourselves to a worthier state, then we might have more “success”.

That’s not the model of transformation by grace which we have to offer, though we have a gospel that really is Good News: you are loved exactly the way you are; you are worthy the way you are; you are a beloved child of God the way you are. It’s not that you have to be changed by the gospel, but that you can’t help but be changed by it.

That this is not the perception of the Church in our communities is something that we need to rectify. Reflecting on the presence of diet clubs “next door in the church hall” might be a good place to start.

Address supplied

Chalice credibility

From the Revd Anette Love

Sir, — After two years of withholding the chalice, how is it going to be possible to return to the common chalice and persuade folk that once more we do think that it’s safe?

3 Chase View, Crich
Derbyshire DE4 5DZ

Ledger stones boast a survey of their own

From Dr Julian W. S. Litten

Sir, — Your readers may like to know that the ledger stones at Bath Abbey (Features, 21 January) were recorded in accordance with the guidelines of the Ledgerstone Survey of England and Wales, an organisation established by me in 2002 and which is now part of the Church Recording Society. Guidelines and recording forms on how to record ledger stones can be downloaded at www.churchrecordingsociety.org.uk

Friarscot, 27 Church Street
King’s Lynn
Norfolk PE30 5EB

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