Many of these terms require further discussion, but for this post I'd like to take on the challenge of what it means to say that a church is Eucharistic. Not the theological depth of the question of what is Eucharist, although that is a discussion a church should have, but the practical question of what it means if a church says that by definition a church is Eucharistic. Specifically, in the Episcopal tradition, in the Disciples tradition, if you you must have Eucharist to be a church, does that mean that you must have an ordained priest to be actually "be" church? If you do not have a priest, and are not having Eucharist, is the gathered community no longer church? How often do you need to have Eucharist to be church? Can the Eucharist be in the form of the reserved sacrament from another parish? Can the person who blesses the sacrament be visiting clergy, and if so, what does that do to the definition of church as "relational"?
I don't believe there is a single right answer to these questions, but it is right, and necessary for small parishes to have this discussion, and decide what is the right answer for their diocese, their geographical location, and for their local community.
For many parishes the answer is yes, we must have Eucharist, and the way we do that is through a process of local ordination. A team of parishioners together take on the role of priest, and one of the team is ordained for the purpose of blessing the sacrament. Or a local individual is identified and formed and licensed to the role of minister. Or an Elder or a committee of Elders share the role of the minister, blessing the sacrament each week.
In other churches the answer is yes, we must have Eucharist, and we can be relational with each other, and bring in outsiders to bless the sacrament. Or that the covenant relationship with the diocese or region means that we ARE in relationship with the visiting minister or priest, simply not the same kind of relationship we have with a member of the local congregation.
Still other parishes decide the answer is yes, and therefore raise the money necessary to pay a seminary trained minister or priest. Because the theological discussion of what is required to be church precedes the financial discussion of how to fund the Eucharist, the budget discussion is about how to meet the mission of the church, not a guilt producing plea for more money to make the budget.
And other parishes decide that morning prayer, or, for one Northern Virginia parish I know, evening prayer, is what makes them church, that Eucharist can be once a month, or only when the Bishop visits, or quarterly, or when the congregation visits the Lutheran Church in the next town.
What makes all of these examples into examples of vital church is the discussion that the members have about what is essential to be church. It is the wrestling with the theology, and with each other, and with the application of the theology to our real church lives that creates vitality and energy for the future.
It is easy for small churches, really for any church, to get hung up in the discussion of how get more resources, how to find volunteers, how to increase the budget, and how to get new members. But those are the discussions of clubs, not of churches.
Churches discuss our lives in Jesus Christ, our challenges in following Jesus' way, our need for comfort, and our need to be in the world doing mission. In short, the call of the church is to discuss theology: what it is, and how to live it out, and how to support one another as we struggle to live it out.
For your parish, is it critical to be Eucharistic? Have you talked about what that means? How do you carry that out? We'd love to hear your story.