For a time I enjoyed playing with the acronym for what Catholics were then calling "Sunday Worship in the Absence of a Priest": what are we swapping for? The name has changed, but the reality is still with us. Nor it a Catholic phenomenon. In this careful study Philip Tovey, an English Anglican liturgist, looks at it in British Methodism and the Church of England —where it is usually called "extended communion" or "communion by extension" —as well as Roman Catholicism. (He notes that forty-nine different names have been used!) In this recently-developed worship service the congregation celebrates the Word, but, instead of celebrating Eucharist, there is communion "by extension," with a layperson or deacon distributing previously consecrated elements. The lack of an ordained minister (which all three communions normally require) makes that necessary. Tovey's purpose is to examine this late-twentieth-century rite to see how people respond to it and how it affects ecclesiology and ministry.
Tovey looks first at the origin and development of the rite through a study of the official documents in each of the three communions. The chapter on the Roman Catholic Church is the only one that is international. In it he examines Roman documents and developments in Germany, France, the U.S., Canada, and the British Isles. The chapter on the Methodist Church is confined to British Methodism, more eucharistically-centered than its American counterpart. He looks at both Extended Communion —used for the sick and homebound —and the traditional love-feast, distinct from the Eucharist and now rare. In the chapter on the Church of England he gives more attention to controversy and debates regarding the rite and updates his previous study of the rite elsewhere in the Anglican communion. In his conclusions he notes that this may be a short-term fix to the long-term problem of providing adequate numbers of ordained ministers and that pastoral necessity may make the temporary expedient a norm.
Case studies in Part II focus on three rural and three urban Church of England parishes. These are part of a larger study of nineteen parishes with experience of Extended Communion. Subsequent chapters analyze the empirical data (mostly qualitative) in terms of repercussions for ministry, questions of liturgical practice, and implications for ecclesiology. Tovey notes both the new minister of this rite and proposed ministerial alternatives (e.g., local ordination and lay presidency), gaps between liturgical policy and practice, and the ecclesiological risk of a theology of consecration superseding a theology of church.
This work in local theology is significant for the place it gives to the voices of those intimately involved in these developments. They raise significant issues, especially the relationship between leadership and ordination and the rise of an alternative model of parish. Tovey concludes to the validity of extended communion in "emergency" situations. However, he calls attention to the need for appropriate criteria for evaluating what is becoming a distinct service in its own right rather than a substitute for Eucharist, to too sharp a divide between theory (most liturgists criticize it) and practice (bishops find it pragmatically necessary), and to the value of empirical research in dealing with theological questions.
This is not itself a theological work but shows what empirical research can contribute to theology. It provides an empirical foundation for assessing the solution to what I have elsewhere called The Dilemma of Priestless Sundays (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1994). It is well organized, clearly written, and generally accurate (though Paul Turner is not Canadian). It concludes with sixteen pages of bibliography and a short index. It is a valuable book, but the publisher's price will, unfortunately, keep it from being generally available.