Do this: the Eucharist in the Uniting Church

“Do This” is a new initiative by the Congregation of Mark the Evangelist and friends

A Rationale and Invitation

Out of its own liturgical experience, and with a view to sharing that experience with the wider Uniting Church in Australia, the Congregation of Mark the Evangelist is seeking to extend an invitation to other UCA congregations to reflect on their Eucharistic practice, with a view to moving ultimately towards a weekly Sunday Eucharist being the norm rather than the exception in the Uniting Church congregations.

The purpose of this project, however, is not the weekly Eucharist itself. That is, the frequency of celebration is not quite the point. A weekly Eucharist would only be the external form of a deeper transformation of congregations’ lives which we believe would result from a process of reflection and exploration prior to any such change, and then from the long-term experience of participation and ongoing reflection on the actual practice of weekly Communion.

There are some strange contradictions operating in the normal eucharistic practice of the UCA. On the one hand, we recognise a need for the Eucharist, as is seen in the (usual) monthly celebration. On the other hand, it is not clear why the Eucharist is not felt to be necessary on the other 3 or 4 Sundays of the month, when the Service of the Word is felt to suffice. Ecumenically, of course, a weekly Eucharist is very widespread. Some denominations have celebrated the Eucharist from the inception of the church itself. Others we associate with weekly celebrations, such as the Anglican and Lutheran communities, have only in the last 100 years shifted from practices similar to those of the UCA to their now weekly celebrations. The reason for noting this is not that we ought simply to follow suit, although ecumenical convergence is nearly always a good thing. More importantly, the question is whether communions which always celebrated, or have shifted to, weekly Eucharists might be “on to something” from which the Uniting Church – and God’s mission – might also benefit.

Sitting alongside our not-well-explained distinction between communion and non-communion Sundays is the command we find in the Scriptures themselves: “Do this for the remembrance of me”. What this means for what we should be doing as a church depends on what we understand is indicated by “for the remembrance of me”. A fairly widespread reading seems to be along the lines of, “Do this, in order to recall me.” The Greek word translated as “remembrance”, however, is quite strong and might be translated as “real‑ise”: “Do this, to real‑ise me”, or “Do this, in order to find yourself in my presence”, or “Do this to make me real to you”. At the heart of any proposal to celebrate the Eucharist more frequently is the promise which is implied in these words: that “this” somehow “remembrances” Jesus for the gathered community – brings the community into the presence of Jesus. Because being brought into the presence of Jesus is the source of our worship and the goal of our mission, the Eucharist promises much which might re-vitalise Christ’s ministry in our congregations.

There are many things which will make the proposal to normalise weekly celebrations of the Eucharist difficult to hear. The Protestant Church, of which we are part, has had a long history of relatively infrequent celebrations of Holy Communion. These practices sprang from a mixture of significant theological and practical considerations after the Reformation. Part of reflecting on our present practice will be to ask whether those issues still apply or have become distorted into something else. Some practical issues, such as the availability of authorised celebrants, will continue to hinder sacramental ministry. Others, however, continue to have influence simply because we have not reflected upon them.

In proposing that the Uniting Church reflect on its current eucharistic practice, we are not proposing any new doctrine for the church. Our present doctrine, which outlines the meaning of the eucharistic celebrations we already enjoy, is the same as that which would undergird a weekly celebration. What would change in the life of the church, we expect, is our reading of the nature of the Eucharist and the relationship it has to the preached Word, the gathered community, and the mission which issues from preaching and receiving the sacrament. This can only be a good thing.

There is much more to be said and discussed in relation to this. Do this is in its very early stages as a project. We hop to work, as a congregation in partnership with other interested people and congregations, to develop a process of raising the question of the meaning of the Eucharist and its place in our being as the Uniting Church within the church catholic. This will involve producing educational material, developing lists of resources which ministers and congregations can use to deepen their understanding of Holy Communion, making presentations to Presbyteries, inviting interested ministers and their congregations into discernment, exploration and experimentation processes, and probably much more!

At this stage, we are simply inviting congregations and their ministers to enter into that conversation in a spirit of openness and discovery, that together we might see where it leads us.

To keep in touch with the Do This project, sign up to the list on our sign-up page.