This is a reflection comes from a discussion on a URC Facebook page about what amounts to the Fellowship necessary for worship. I am not answering that question directly here but looking at the forms of fellowship that happen during Christian worship. This is a personal piece reflecting on my experience.
Firstly in the two years before Covid I was regularly going over to Manchester monthly and quite often in an emergency at short notice to. I had just changed from a URC to the local parish Anglican Church that was very definitely Anglo-Catholic. Its prayer meeting was a rosary group and I got drawn into that. The group often met on the day I was visiting Manchester and I started saying the rosary while I travelled (by train). It became natural for me to pray the rosary on emergency visits as well despite the fact the group were not praying then. One thing it did was give me a strong sense of being connected to a spiritual fellowship of prayers. I was with others in prayer.
Secondly, I want to juxtapose that with my experience of watching the mass during the lockdowns. I did this with the parish church as it was streaming daily through the first and second lockdown. I did it daily usually as well. When I was able I did it at the time of the streaming and would then use an act of Spiritual Communion at the distribution of the elements. If I was not able to do it at the exact time due to work commitment or other (I have worked from home since just before the first lockdown) I would watch later but I would not then make an act of Spiritual Communion. I was blessed during the second to be able to receive communion weekly because I helped with the broadcast of the service on a Saturday. This highlighted for me how much was missing even from a Spiritual Communion online.
Right I think there are at least seven ways of keeping fellowship with others in the act of worship:
- Fellowship of the Church – All worship from a hermit in isolation to that of community living together in the same building is an act of fellowship. We are always surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses of which we are members as part of the church.
- Fellowship of place – where we use the same space where others have or are worshiping. This is one of the reasons why places of pilgrimage are so special
- Fellowship of time – where we are aware of worshiping at the same time as other people whether or not they are present.
- Fellowship of form – when we use the same form of worship as others. So following a recorded online service does this but so does my praying the rosary on the train.
- Fellowship of the table – when we share the same meal during worship with others. The fifth came late but I think it is important to acknowledge the sociological insight that humans, as are all animals, are careful who they share food with and there is an assumed bond between those who share a table that goes beyond the table.
- Fellowship of touch – The fellowship of touching and being touched by fellow human beings. Think of its use in sharing the Peace or greeting someone with a hug. I am going to admit that when I originally posted this did not occur to me. It did not occur to me simply because for me it is fractured and what I experience when used is no longer fellowship.
- Fellowship of silence – I talk of the place where I meet internally with God as a silence. Like many people who use contemplative prayer I have found it a place where I am profoundly met. It also seems to echo through many of the other silences in my life. When I am with someone in silence the echoes from my silence create a harmony with the echoes of their silence and this deepens the worship that is happening around it.