The Rev. Jacob Martin, an Episcopal priest in Princeton, New Jersey, thinks it is time to bring the Church into the 21st Century. He will soon be offering the first online communion service.
"I first got the idea many years ago," said Martin. "I officiated at a wedding at which over 300 people showed up, and we only had seating for 100. I put speakers out front, and the overflow crowd sat in the comfort of their cars for most of the service. When it came time for communion, they came inside to receive the sacrament."
"I thought that would solve our seating problem, and so began developing plans to launch the first 'drive-in Eucharist.' Unfortunately, my bishop and a few of my members did not share my enthusiasm."
Martin turned his attention to the possibilities offered by the world-wide web after an experience at the last General Convention of The Episcopal Church, held in Columbus, Ohio in 2006. "I went to a local Episcopal parish to hear the Bishop of New Hampshire preach. When I got there, the church was already full, so I was directed to overflow seating arranged in the basement. A large screen was placed at the front of that basement room, and the entire service was provided by video for those of us who arrived late, including the Eucharistic prayers. When it was time for communion, I was surprised to see the Bishop in the basement with us distributing the sacrament."
"That's when it hit me; if we can be considered present for the Eucharistic prayers by nature of viewing a video feed, why not use modern technology and offer communion to the homebound by way of a video on the internet?"
Martin is still waiting for his Eucharistic videos to be hosted by GodTube. He doesn't forsee any problems, however. "They recently allowed a video of a priest blessing Britney Spears. I'd say my idea is much less controversial than that."
Martin has a few concerns. "I do hope people will use wheat bread and real wine, preferrably a good Port, when they share in our online communion. Although it is not necessary, some may wish to touch the elements to their computer screen at the epiclesis. If that is their preference, I suggest that they use a plastic goblet for the wine, so as to not damage the screen of their monitor."
This appears to be only the beginning of Martin's exploration of cyber sacramental rites. "I'm working on a healing service. I think we can accomplish the laying on of hands by asking viewers to lean their heads toward the screen as I extend my hands toward the camera. But I haven't quite figured out the annointing part yet."