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Virtual Priest?

Virtual Priest?

Written by Tom Buechele


I have been celebrating Mass, Jesus’ last supper, preaching and breaking bread and sharing the cup of wine for some 52 years. First as a Roman Catholic priest and now as an Episcopal priest. 


Recently, I was invited to be a “virtual celebrant” of the Sunday Eucharist at our local Episcopal Church. In this pandemic time of 2020 I applaud the ingenuity of Churches to keep in contact and provide spiritual nourishment to the members. There are hundreds of possible interface programs via the internet. I actually was kind of excited to see how technology can help a community celebrate the Sacrament.


I drove to the Church to meet with the assistant priest and have her show me how it’s done.There in the middle of the aisle was a small camera and attached microphone on a tripod. Two musicians were rehearsing the hymns. The camera operator, myself and the assistant priest all had masks and we appropriately socially distanced. I made a few notes as to how to proceed. No rubrical or liturgical changes. I will be scheduled in the rotation of celebrants on Tuesday. (Tuesday?…not Sunday?..Tuesday is recording day. Oh, OK)


There was a moment when the assistant priest and I looked at one another and sighed….a profound sadness passed between us. All is great…but where are the disciples? On the other side of the camera? Maybe! Sadly there is no communion bread for them. No wine. There are no other ministers…no acolytes, no lectors, no chalice bearers, no leader of the Prayers of the Faithful. It would be just me, the camera and Jesus. Now we are all virtual. The adjective virtual is used to describe something that exists in essence but not in actuality. Some might argue that the presence of Jesus, the Son of God, has always been virtual.


Some small congregations have returned to limited in-person worship. Small gatherings, six feet apart, masks et al. Communion is available, but only to restricted number. 


I have read the suggestion that perhaps we are in a time of communion fasting. That our loneliness, our physical distancing and  no touching is sacrificial. That the real worship of our time is to embrace the poor, literally feed the hungry Body of Christ. Give our own blood. 


On my drive home I was and am deeply saddened. And yet the psalmist says “the plague in the darkness you will not fear.” Ps. 90. And so, “Come to me, all who labour and are burdened, and I will refresh you, says the Lord.”


And so we pray: 

O non-virtual God send your love, speed your knowledge and wisdom to those dedicated scientists who are working day and night for a vaccine.

And help us cast away our fear.



The Rev.Tom Buechele has served in Iowa, Arizona, Hawaii and Oregon. Priest of the Diocese of Hawaii. He has experience with Latinx ministry along the border, multi-cultural congregations in Hawaii and headed up programs for Deacons and Priests. Married to Jean for 27 years.



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Jim Meyer

At my Episcopal church, the elements–already blessed–were sent out to parishioners ahead of time. So, as the priest celebrated virtually, we at home could share in the Eucharist together.

Elizabeth Siler

I think TEC needs to find ways to get people together safely. Virtual isn’t cutting it for most people anymore. I spend all day every day teaching in front of a Zoom screen. I want a worship experience that is not based on managing my Zoom presence! I strongly think we should be looking to more of the outdoor services, including parking lot services. My local Lutheran ELCA church is doing these services. I have begun going there — you get to SEE other people. There is an actual celebration happening in front of your eyes. You are not looking at a screen — and BEST OF ALL, you get communion (it’s handed out in sani-paks at the beginning of the service and you sit in your car and hold it up towards the pastor as he consecrates it). There is hymn singing. Why the ETC can’t get with some of these models is beyond my comprehension.

Connie B

Appreciate your article and your perspective as a priest. We have so missed our mass & communion. We fail to realize what it means to our priests. We are now truly blessed to attend mass with live stream or attend and receive communion on a limited basis as our church is quite large. Being a senior I realize many cannot.

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