Anglicans Online banner More about the gryphon
Independent On the web since 1994 More than 250,000 readers More than 30,000 links Updated every Sunday
Will you help support
Anglicans Online?

The Paypal logotype

Noted This Week
Sites new to AO

News Centre
News archive

News flash: a summary of the top headlines
Find us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us by email
Be notified each week

Start here
Anglicans believe...
The Prayer Book
The Bible

Read letters to AO
Write to us

Resources A to Z

World Anglicanism
Anglican Communion
In full communion
Not in the Communion

Dioceses and Parishes
Hong Kong
New Zealand
South Africa
Sri Lanka

Vacancies Centre
List a vacancy
Check openings worldwide

Add a site or link to AO
Add a site to AO
Link to AO

About Anglicans Online
Back issues
About our logo

Our search engine

Hallo again to all.

In the world of design, especially architectural and engineering design, there is a phenomenon that nowadays is called 'bikeshedding'. People get together with good intentions to plan how something should be done, but the required discussion is too difficult or too complex or requires too much preparation. Often, only one or two people in such a meeting are able to make meaningful contributions to the process. So the focus of the design discussion drifts toward the trivial, because if you are working on something trivial, it is easy to make progress. The usual example: a committee whose job was to approve the plans for a nuclear power plant spending the majority of its time on discussions about minor but easy-to-grasp issues, such as what materials to use for the staff bike shed, all the while neglecting the proposed design of the plant itself. Those people are said to be bikeshedding.

We have noticed a related phenomenon in liturgical churches such as ours.

You can be a proper Anglican Christian without any knowledge or training in theology, without knowing much about the Bible, or without even being able to read. In our own parish there is an adult with severe developmental disabilities who seems not to understand much of what is happening in a service, but who clearly has faith and reverence and who chooses to attend. In no way is that person less important to God, to the parish, or to the world. People work hard to learn that person's opinions and to factor them in to discussions, knowing that the discussion will likely devolve to bikeshedding.

In a church we attended recently, the celebration of the Eucharist had been revised to use baked leavened bread instead of wafers. This prompted many discussions at coffee hour, some becoming a bit heated, about the use of bread instead of wafers. We perceived it as bikeshedding, because it didn't seem that any of the participants had much knowledge about the history, theology, or compound meaning of the Eucharist. And we're confident that none of them had read (or cared about) the sort of 'The right way to receive holy communion' essays that are easy to find online. One of our favourites is this one written by a secular Benedictine Oblate in the USA. We note without comment this quote from St Cyril of Jerusalem:

'When you approach, take care not to do so with your hand stretched out and your fingers open or apart, but rather place your left hand as a throne beneath your right, as befits one who is about to receive the King. Then receive him, taking care that nothing is lost.'

or this quote from an English translation of Missale Romanum:

Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it takes place under both kinds. For in this form the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident and clearer expression is given to the divine will by which the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the Lord, as also the connection between the Eucharistic banquet and the eschatological banquet in the Kingdom of the Father.

It is easy to spend all day using internet search engines to find documents explaining how to prepare, administer, and receive communion. The rules and rituals can get really ornate, and the instructions have a 'do it this way or burn in Hell for all eternity' tone to them. Those rituals do feel pious, but in this 21st century it is hard to see them as commands from God. We'd guess that most of these rituals come from many centuries of bikeshedding.

We know of four accounts of the Eucharist in the New Testament (this table in Wikipedia summarises them well), and none of them discusses how the communicant should be holding his or her hands. Note that there were once solid theological reasons for how it should be done, but over the centuries there are more commands and fewer explanations. Doctrine congeals into dogma.

We have taken the Eucharist from an Anglican priest at a picnic table outside a tent in a wilderness camp-ground, and we aren't going to listen to any arguments that it wasn't a valid sacrament. He used wafers not for any theological or historical reason, but because it made his backpack lighter.

See you next week.

Our signature
All of us at Anglicans Online

13 October 2019

A thin blue line
This web site is independent. It is not official in any way. Our editorial staff is private and unaffiliated. Please contact about information on this page. ©2018 Society of Archbishop Justus
. Please address all spam to