Communion Eucharist Bread Wine

South Birmingham Peacemeal: A Quaker Perspective

Ruth Wilde, a member of the South Birmingham Peacemeal group and attender at Selly Oak Quaker Meeting, reflects on Peacemeal as the original form of communion.

I recently began worshipping with the Society of Friends, having been Anglican for many years. There are many things about the mystical and contemplative side of both Anglo-Catholicism and Quakerism that I find quite similar; but in terms of the focus on the Eucharist, they are very different indeed.

The Quakers have never celebrated the Eucharist or any sacraments. This is partly because Quakers find that all ritual distracts and takes focus away from God. Also, Quakers believe that we are all ministers, so there is no need for a priest to preside at a communion. However, in our own way, Friends do in fact celebrate the Eucharist.

reflectionsThe writer Brent Bill says that Quaker silence is in fact our version of the Eucharist. In his book ‘Holy Silence’, he says: ‘We believe that Christ comes in a physically present way in the same way that Catholics believe that when the host is elevated it becomes the literal body and blood of Jesus. It is not just some symbol…Friends feel that way about silence.’

Since I have been going to Quaker meeting for worship, I have increasingly felt the same way about it. Having thought I would miss the physical Eucharist, I have discovered it in a new and different form.

I have also discovered another incredibly powerful form of Eucharist, in the shape of an ecumenical house group called ‘Peacemeal’. It is based on the early church agape meals and on the Last Supper itself – where Jesus did not celebrate only with bread and wine, but with bread, wine and food.

In our Peacemeal in Birmingham, up to 14 of us gather together to break bread and drink wine in the context of a shared meal, just like Jesus and the disciples would have done. We then share what we’ve been up to, what we need prayer for, and sing Taize chants or read the Bible together.

Birmingham Peacemeal Quaker Meeting HouseThe Peacemeal I am part of in South Birmingham came into being through what I would call the leading of the Spirit. All of the developments which have followed have been equally as ‘organic’ and Spirit-led: the growth, the format, the people who have found us, the once a month worship at Selly Oak Quaker Meeting House, and recently the calling to do something together for refugees.

When we moved to Birmingham, my wife and I got in touch with a few people we already knew, but other people were also directed our way through mutual contacts.  Very quickly, there were enough people to start a group!

Peacemeal has been an enormous blessing to us, and it seems that the kind of thing we’re doing is becoming more and more widespread. According to a book I’m reading at the minute called ‘The Invisible Church’ by Steve Aisthorpe, research shows that many people who are leaving institutional church are not doing so because of a loss of faith: in fact, the majority of church-leavers retain their faith, and many go on to meet in more informal contexts like house groups and Peacemeal groups.

It is evident that there is a monumental change taking place in the body of Christ. We are witnessing a great re-imagining of church post-Christendom and the most exciting thing about it is that the new form looks a lot like the first church – the early church. The changing shape of the church is not something to be worried about, it’s something to be excited about!

I’ll leave you with the wise words of Steve Aisthorpe himself: ‘The fact is the world is over Christendom…let’s recognise the increasing marginalisation of Christianity as a wake-up call to remember our roots and calling… This is a moment to rediscover the challenging and hazardous message of Jesus’ (The Invisible Church, p.29).

About South Birmingham Peacemeal group

South Birmingham’s Peacemeal group meets weekly in each other’s homes and once a month at the local Quaker Meeting House. This ecumenical group shares their faith journey together around a vegan, home cooked meal.

If you live in Birmingham, join them on the South Birmingham Peacemeal Facebook group or email Ruth to find out more.

Ruth’s story is adapted from this original blog post featured on the SCM website.

Brent Bill’s ‘Holy Silence’ (2nd edition) is published by Eerdman’s Publishing Co.

Steve Aisthorpe’s ‘The Invisible Church’ is published by Saint Andrew Press.



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