Drone Communion actually solves the problems with Online Communion


Last month it was all the rage to talk about online communion (#onlinecommunion) in the United Methodist Church. Papers were written, a summit was called, twitter tweeted, and some outsiders looked on with either wonder or disgust. The end result: there were too many issues that made online communion problematic for the moment. A moratorium was urged on those Methodist pastors practicing online communion and on a large church in North Carolina that was considering the issue. Click here for the full list of resources, position papers, and news articles on this conversation.

But really I think all that was really shortsighted.

Because while online communion may not be able to overcome the theological problems of self-serve communion, priestly blessing of elements, and other issues…folks, there’s a simple solution to all those problems.

Yes, I’m talking about Drone Communion.

Ridiculous? Not really. As we found out last night, it is closer than you think.

On December 1st, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos revealed one of his company’s secret projects: a drone program to  rapidly deliver packages across the country in about five years. Really. Here’s the video:

Amazing, right? So Bezos’ vision is that his little drones can deliver packages in a certain radius within a half-hour of about 85% of Amazon.com orders (85% are under 5 pounds, the weight limit).

So I want to thank Bezos. Because if Amazon.com can do it, why can’t the church do the same thing? And the best thing about drone communion is that it silences MOST if NOT ALL of the detractors of online communion.


Here’s how Drone Communion would work:

  1. People within a geographic area around a local church can “order” their Communion online and hopefully watch the streamed worship service.
  2. The Pastor can bless the Sacrament in a traditional worship context at a particular time (so not just once-and-done “drop-in” communion, which is frowned upon).
  3. The Sacraments along with a pre-recorded pastor’s voice  are loaded onto a drone and sent out to the people’s homes.
  4. The Sacraments arrive and when the person gets near to the drone, the pastor’s voice recites the required sections of “home communion” according to This Holy Mystery, page 23.
    When Holy Communion is extended to those unable to attend, the liturgy should include the reading of the Scripture Lesson(s), the Invitation, Confession and Pardon, the Peace, the Lord’s Prayer, distribution, and post-Communion prayer. A prayer of Great Thanksgiving should not be repeated, since this service is an extension of the Communion service held earlier
  5. The drone can then drop the bread and offer the cup to the person. In this way, the drone “gives” communion to the person so they are not “self-serving” the communion elements.
  6. BONUS: The drone can also drop off and return pledge cards or giving envelopes. Because these drones are expensive.
  7. The drone then takes off and heads home. If no one approaches the drone within a set amount of time, it simply returns home automatically so as to not do “reserve communion” beyond the understood time limit.

Boom. Done.

Friends, we should be proud for three accomplishments.

We’ve solved the problem of online communion, we’ve dealt with most of the major critiques of online communion, and we’ve made (for an exorbitant price) communion available for all people within a fly zone of the church.

Through our online genius, we’ve extended the table to truly reflect John Wesley’s contention “The World is My Parish.” Well done, friends.

What say you?

May the drone be with you.
And also with you.

(Photo: “Drone controlled by perceptual computing” modified under Creative Commons share on Flickr)
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      • says

        Love the satire, Jeremy. I really do.

        But, no, it doesn’t solve the most basic problem. It’s not simply the same elements blessed in the physical gathering aren’t being shared in a virtual one. And if you have to unwrap things, well, we’re back to self-service again, right?

        What still isn’t being resolved is the human issue. Communion is celebrated and shared between people, flesh to flesh. It’s not about transporting blessed elements or anyone saying “the magic words.” It’s about people sharing with other people, being re-membered as body of Christ together in flesh and blood.

        So, the pastor’s disembodied voice through the drone presents a double problem. First, disembodiment. Second, why the pastor? Any duly trained member of the congregation may be sent, in person, to share the elements from a regular service of Word and Table, in person. So using drones ends up disempowering the ministry of the laity, as well.

        • says

          C’mon TWBE. A vending machine contraption would dispense the wafer…we don’t care if it is stale now, so that concern wouldn’t change. And just like passing the tray of little cups in communion, being “served” the tray doesn’t stop you from “lifting up” the little cup to drink from it.

          Obviously this is just a precursor to the ultimate way of distributed communion: Visitation lay stewards with jetpacks. They attend the worship service, get the elements, and rocket out around the area. WHAT SAY YOU NOW??????

          • John says

            What’s next… climbing into your own bathtub while listening to a podcast of the pastor saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?”

            I don’t think Mr. Wesley, practical theologian though he was, would find self-administration of the sacramental means of grace consistent with his ecclesiology. Recall his observation that “‘Holy Solitaries'” is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than Holy Adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness.”

            But, since we’re surrounded by a thoroughly Western, modernist, individualistic culture whose raison d’être is instant gratification of the self, why not elevate culture over the Kingdom and forgo all remaining semblance of Christian community altogether?

          • says

            Relax John. The basic premise is that drones could replace Eucharistic Ministers and lay distributors, which already exists. The suggestion actually is less individualistic than you think.

          • John says

            While we’re at it, let’s just replace our sanctuaries with a small broadcast booth. We don’t need to gather for worship. Just grab your iPad, link up to the streaming worship (with 4 minute gaps in which to listen to your own favorite music… traditional hymns or Casting Crowns… your choice, of course), and when it’s time just tear off a piece of Wonder Bread, pour yourself a glass of Welch’s, and wait for the image of your pastor to consecrate the elements on his own table. Voila! Yours is consecrated, too. Eat, drink, and be merry!

            While we’re at it, since we don’t need any human contact, why do we have to watch a local pastor? Eliminate them. We’ll just give the bishop the broadcast booth. Now that I think of it, why even have multiple bishops? We’ll just elect one elder who can lead worship for the entire connection.

            You say this stuff isn’t individualistic? Drones only replace the mail for delivery of the elements. Eucharistic ministers and lay distributors are legitimate because their very presence represents the entire gathering of the church. But where there is no human gathering, by definition there is no church, no Christian community, no Kingdom of God.

  1. Steve Clunn says

    This is great Jeremy… it fulfills the non-trifling of time clause of our ordination vows and seems to me to expand our ability (as vital congregations) to reach-out to those parishioners who want to stay connected, but don’t necessarily like their pastor “coming around and bothering them.” My only concern is that we will need to rename the sacrament… since communion (n.) comes from the 14c., Old French comunion “community, communion” (12c.), from Latin communionem (nominative communio) “fellowship, mutual participation, a sharing,” used in Late Latin ecclesiastical language for “participation in the sacrament,” from communis… Used by Augustine, in belief that the word was derived from com- “with, together” + unus “oneness, union.” – it seems to me that we need a cleaner term that doesn’t imply so much “fellowship” or “togetherness.” Might I suggest “Droneucharist” – a mash-up that I believe fulfills the requirement of being both practical and descriptive.

  2. says

    Maybe I am taking this more seriously than I ought, but it makes me think that almost every theological problem we encounter can be solved with simple patience.

  3. says

    Now that’s what I’m talking about! Great piece! So does the worship bulletin come via drone or can we deliver that via email?

    I’m still convinced that many objections to online communion are less about the integrity of the sacremental practice and more about the lack of understanding of online communities. Online communities are real communities. Legit communities. And for some, the only practical way to gather as the worshipping body of Christ.

  4. Dawn Chesser says

    Hilarious. Especially loved the jet pack follow-up suggestion. My colleague TWBE is correct of course, but I love the way you spun this out in light of the latest amazon news!

    • Zzyzx says

      And for those of us who are socially awkward, it fixes that whole problem by removing the “us” factor!

      A typical example from me: “So, you live here?”

      “No pastor, we just rented the house to impress you when you visit!”

  5. Kirk VanGilder says

    I can’t wait until I can sit around in my underwear in front of a computer all day and still be a pastor! But will these drones be properly programmed to follow the Discipline in its entirety or are we going to start having trials over their actions and rights like they did for Data on Stat Trek?

  6. says

    You know, rather than making unhelpful jokes such as this one (which is also hugely offensive, as it mocks the millions of Christian deacons who, since the earliest days of the church, served Christ by distributing Holy Communion to shut-ins), UM Jeremy could do the Methodist church a legitimate service by encouraging pastors to offer Holy Communion more frequently. It is a terrible theological tragedy that most Methodist parishes only serve Holy Communion once a month, when Wesley advocated it be done weekly; it is equally tragic that most Methodist parishes only offer worship services on Sunday. The sanctuary is empty the rest of the week. If you’re unable to make the Sunday service, due to being sick, or having a family emergency, or any other legitimate problem (I myself couldn’t attend this Sunday due to food poisoning), you’re out of luck.

    I have to confess I don’t entirely understand what the majority of UMC pastors do all week. I understand much time is spent visiting those congregants who are ill, performing funerals, and weddings, but a massive amount of time seems to be wasted on purely administrative tasks, when the church also has a secretary. What one might call “busywork.”

    If the UMC really wants to make a change for the better, I would suggest obliging all parishes to offer daily prayer services, offer holy communion on at least two days each week, and offer Vespers or Evensong weekly as well, either on Saturday or Sunday night. In addition, the status of Deacon should be reassigned to those we now designate as Lay Servants, and not just to seminarians in training, and the expanded Diaconate should be charged with the aggressive distribution of communion to the shut-ins, as well as to evangelical witness in the communion.

    It should be observed that communion not actually received from a priest is, by the standards of the early Church, canonically invalid; even receiving communion on the hand has been controversial. I myself do love how in the Methodist church, we are allowed to reach out and touch the consecrated bread, to break off a piece of the body of Christ and intinct it; this gave me a profound spiritual experience in my childhood that is largely responsible for my continued Christianity. Let us figure out a way to legitimately bring the joy of communion to shut-ins, who are often extremely lonely, by consecrating more lay servants, and giving them the status of Deacons.

  7. says

    One must also observe that the tone of this entire conversation really is entirely too irreverent. Do you people not realize that you are talking about the body and blood of Jesus Christ? The Divine Liturgy of St. James says that we should look upon them “with fear and trembling”; surely joking about Holy Communion in this manner goes against the spirit, if not the letter, of the Third Commandment.

  8. Zzyzx says

    Enslaving a race of mechanical beings to do our “dirty” work? I always suspected “Terminator” was a documentary made by a time-traveling James Cameron…

  9. David Winfrey says

    Soon all the churches will be using armed drones; the Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, and the others will all be shooting down each other’s heretical drones, and sending their own Communion elements to the intended recipients. (Except the Quakers and Anabaptists, of course, being pacifists.) If you were expecting a bread cube and grape juice, and get a wafer and a cup of wine instead, you’ll know what happened.

    • John says

      Might the Quakers be excepted because they don’t practice Communion? And Catholics and Anabaptists because they practice closed Communion? And wouldn’t the drone-senders be apostates themselves for engaging in acts of violence in an effort to preserve the integrity of the body? Come to think of it, though, serving bread cubes in lieu of unleavened bread just might provoke a violent reaction. Yecch!


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