Wednesday 30 November 2022

Theology in Scotland 29, 2 (2022) on Church, Virtual and Physical

The substance of the latest issue of Theology in Scotland is devoted to the relationship between the physical and the virtual in the life of the church. The articles are available as pdfs from here.

Lina Toth

Editorial: Church, Virtual and Physical

From the Editorial: ‘As we continue to inhabit this not-quite-post-pandemic world, and grapple with the fact that, at least in some contexts and some forms, online participation is here to stay, questions around the relationship between the physical and the virtual in the life of the Church will need some sustained theological conversation. We hope that this issue of Theology in Scotland will contribute to a start of such conversation.’


Tom Shields

Virtual Assurance: Reflecting on the ‘Confident Prayer of the Church’ Through Online Worship

The author addresses two constant questions in Roman Catholic sacramental theology against the background of the broadcasting of online Mass, especially during the restrictions imposed on in-person attendance to inhibit the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. These are: what constitutes sacramental communion in the Roman Catholic Church and what is the role of the priest in celebrating the Eucharist? Looking at the first of those questions, he briefly examines the recent work of Katherine G. Schmidt and her use of the sacramental theology of Louis-Marie Chauvet, which addresses both the idea and the experience of presence and absence in the celebration of the Eucharist. The author concludes that, while her work raises some important issues that need to be addressed, she does not entirely represent Chauvet’s thinking, and the fullest understanding of sacramental communion in the Roman Catholic tradition will always include the physical. It is in addressing the second question, that of the responsibility of the priest in celebrating the Mass with an online congregation, that the author believes a more satisfactory answer can be found as to the sacramental ‘value’ of virtual worship. Employing the ideas of authority, authenticity, and assurance, as they relate to the ordained ministry, he maintains that it is crucial the ‘confident prayer of the Church’ be visible and accessible.

Michael Hull

Why Not an ‘Online Eucharist’?: A Scottish-Episcopal Perspective on Presence

The experience of Covid-19’s lockdowns, especially living through a period without the Eucharist on Sunday lays behind this theological reflection from the perspective of a Scottish Episcopalian about so-called online Eucharists with remote consecrations. The question I set is simple: ‘Can the elements of bread and wine be consecrated outwith the gathered community?’ Simple too is my answer: ‘No, they cannot.’ The pandemic has tested the fault lines of God’s presence in our worship, our presence in community and those presences in the Eucharist. I argue that God’s presence with us was unchanged by lockdown. I also argue that although many of us began to use ‘onsite’, ‘online’ and a variety of related terms in unprecedented ways vis-à-vis liturgies, our presence to one another was changed during lockdown. When we could not gather as a community, even if we were able to communicate via the internet, we could neither celebrate the Eucharist nor consecrate the elements. Theological reflection will, I hope, hone our appreciation of the significance of our humanity, the Incarnation, and the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacramental economy.

Ruth Gouldbourne in conversation with Steve Holmes

From One Degree of Imperfection to Another: A Consideration of Gathering in Different Ways

This conversation focuses on issues raised during the recent pandemic, and in particular the theological as well as practical questions around gathering for worship when we could not be together in our buildings. We have known each other for several years, but have not met recently. However, to have a conversation reflecting on issues about different ways of meeting which have been brought to the fore by the last few years, it seemed good to meet and share food as well as conversation. This is a lightly edited version of our discussion. Unfortunately, we cannot share the delicious food with those of you who read this – and that fact proved central to our discussion.

Adam Hood

The Place of Buildings in the Mission of the Church of Scotland: The Need for a Theology of the Built Environment

Church sanctuaries are a vital asset in the work of the Church of Scotland, helping to initiate and sustain faith. A sanctuary helps define a congregation’s self-understanding and the features of a church building have a pedagogic function. Church buildings are significant too, in the spiritual life of the wider community. They are the material instantiation of the Kirk’s commitment to be present in each locality, providing a focal point for the expression of spiritual needs and the offering of care. They also testify to God’s presence in a location and to values that transcend those of everyday life.

Arts and Culture

Sorrel Shamel-Wood

Churches Will Open for Private Prayer

This poem describes the first time my husband (then fiancé) and I set foot inside a church following their closure as part of the UK lockdown which began in March 2020. Initially, churches opened for private prayer only, with social distancing measures such as one-way systems in place and the removal of soft furnishings and holy water to avoid contagion.

Gifford Lectures Corner

Jonathan C.P Birch

The Theological House that Jack (un)built: Halberstam on an Aesthetics of Collapse and Mushrooms Among the Ruins

Review Essay

Jonathan C.P. Birch

Three Lions, Divine Comedy and Making Jews Count: Baddiel and Skinner, Then and Now


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