Spontaneous Eucharist Kit - Make Your Own
Here's the story of my experience with the Spontaneous Eucharist experiment, and also here's a "Spontaneous Eucharist kit" in PDF form that you can print and use to create your own box or event. All we ask is that you mention us and take it seriously.
The idea came about through discussions with the Rev. Suzanne Cooke with whom I collaborate on Soul Circus events. Soul Circus focuses on bringing the Eucharist into our cultural context by producing creative and engaging worship services. Suzanne tends to come at this from a position of wanting to celebrate the awesomeness of Holy Communion, and open it up to people, within the context of the Anglican Eucharist prayer and forms. Personally, I have a very mixed denominational background and have experienced Holy Communion in many different ways - each with their moments of sacredness and value - so I come at it with no boundaries or taboos of any kind. Sometimes it seems that the ritual of the bread and wine are hidden, are kept from people and guarded by the Priests and the church. My desire really is to give the Eucharist away. I totally respect what the Anglican church tries to do, the way that it protects and honours Communion and draws out the beauty and significance, and working with Soul Circus and Suzanne has given me a renewed appreciation of the poetry and importance of this "event". Without that level of respect and understanding I think the Spontaneous Eucharist idea would have felt very frivolous.
The concept we were trying to get across is that the bread and wine could have a greater significance for us in our daily lives if we took it out of the church. In any moment of celebration or where something needed healing you could bring out the box and share Communion with those around you - or with yourself. How beautiful could that be?
It's kind of from the clash of views within our conversations that something quite beautiful often emerges. Suzanne had a certain amount of trouble with the idea in terms of the implications, the role of the Priest and the relationship between Priest and participant. Ultimately the conclusion we came to is that we cannot impose the nature of the bread and wine on the participant - the significance of the contents of the box, what they are, what they mean, has to rest with the person holding it. For some it will be simply a thimble of wine and a wafer in a little box, but for others it could be the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ - and everything in between. We had to allow for that and in many respects it took the pressure off us in what we were trying to achieve. We give it to someone and that person then takes on the responsibility for what they believe is in the box. So was consecration actually necessary? Yes - and here's why. For me, taking the bread and wine requires no Priest or special magic words - but I know that for many many people without those words, without the person invested with the authority to perform this act the bread and wine are meaningless. So from the point of view of including as many expressions of faith as possible I felt it was vital that the elements were consecrated properly, seriously, humbly. The second reason is that in many non-denominational churches the bread and wine can be treated very casually, sometimes as an after-thought, and not seen as important - i believe this is a real shame and that we miss out on something when we trivialise it. So, I felt that consecration gave the whole event a weight, an importance, a demonstration that we were being serious and respectful. That felt really important to me.
So, on the Saturday morning Father Simon Rundall from the faith community Blesséd dropped by our tent and held a little Eucharist service for us - it was actually very moving and probably a highlight of the festival for me.
Then we got on with making 100 kits. The vials were using were little plastic sample bottles from www.camlab.co.uk which were very cheap (we had no budget) and perfectly sized at 2.5ml (half a teaspoon). The lids were initially fixed to the vial and you would bend them over to fit - but they would randomly pull up and pop off so we cut the lids free. When we'd added the wine and put the lid on we also found that, quite bizarrely, some wine would bubble out and leak down the sides. Couldn't quite explain it - maybe it was the dropping air pressure around us as a big storm approached - who knows. After a while they settled and we put a small strip of masking tape over the top just in case. The box itself had changed a bit from my original design which was a square box with a lid that could be made from a single sheet. However it would take ages to cut out and getting them made was too expensive. I then stumbled upon this design of a gift box on a craft website - and it's been brilliantly perfect. The wafers, much to my surprise, were available in church shops to normal people - I had assumed that only properly holy people with special holy catalogues could buy such things. A tub of 250 for a fiver. The wine was from Sainbury's, quite light and rather nice although we were left with half a bottle once we'd made all the kits. I was under strict instructions from Fr Simon that it must all be consumed "soberly" as it was the blood of Christ - which I did, over a few days - the remaining wafers too. Next time half a bottle would be plenty.
It took pretty much all morning to get them all together - I'm really glad we didn't decide to do a thousand kits as originally planned.
Distribution was something we were very much going to play by ear. We'd been told by the Greenbelt worship police that we were not allowed to approach people or hassle people, but rather we were to let people come to us if they were interested. I had created a poster and my wife Maria had come up with an innovative way of making something to stick the poster on using a clothes dryer, a cardboard box and some muslin - the worship police had also told us that we were not allowed to bang any posts in the ground to create a banner in case we struck power lines that were apparently hidden just beneath the grass - despite being surrounded by tents.
We took to the festival village, set up the stand and tried to catch people's eyes as they walked past. I felt it was vital that we didn't just give them away like free samples or a promotional item - this was the body and blood of Christ and so the person receiving it needed to understand what it was and that it was intended to be used as such. There's something in that exchange, that conversation, the giving and receiving of the box, that was quite powerful.
It was quite slow initially, with myself, Naomi and Hannah all standing around feeling a bit silly. But then people began to stop and ask us about it and it opened up a lot of interesting conversations. Everyone thought it was a wonderful idea and had many different thoughts on what they could use it for. I think I began to believe that we had created something really special here. I mentioned earlier how sometimes I feel the church keeps the Eucharist away from people and many of those I spoke to felt that way too - they were delighted that we were giving them this gift, completely free and entrusting them with the use of it. There was something quite profound going on. Then the heavens opened and about 3 inches of rain fell in like 2 minutes and we were all washed away into the pizza tent.
We tried again on the Sunday afternoon and had much better weather and many more people and after about an hour or so we had given out all our little boxes. Again everyone we spoke to loved the idea and was very keen to accept one and take it in the spirit it was meant. It was truly lovely. Suzanne also joined us at this point and any doubts she had about it were thoroughly soothed away by the joy and wonderment she found in the people she gave boxes to. It was a marvellous thing.
Afterwards we felt like we should have had more, that perhaps we should do it every year and that it should become part of the Greenbelt thing - who knows. I've had some nice feedback from people who took part in a Spontaneous Eucharist with their box - it's such a positive, life giving thing. I wonder what the repercussions will be down the line - could this idea be taken into the secular world, could it be used in a normal church context? Could we get into trouble with the Bishops? I don't know. I think that regardless of your views on the Eucharist, or how it should be used or administered, we gave people a gift, something precious, something important and, as I've already heard from people, it can result in a very moving and life giving experience. Who could possibly object to that?