By David Browne
An industrial dispute at Southern Television held up the start of a new televised worship experiement which was due to go on the air last Sunday.
The first of the programmes. called "Communion", will now be broadcast early on Sunday in the South of England on ITV.
Viewers at home are to be participants and not just onlookers in the experimental series of eucharistic services, which will be televised from a studio in Southampton in addition to the traditional morning worship broadcasts from churches.
The new series includes Mass and Church of England and Free Church Communion services to be celebrated in turn from week to week by Southern Television's religious advisers. Fr Anthony Cashman, director of the Park Place pastoral centre. Wickham, Hampshire, will say Mass in the series.
The services are designed for those who are unable to get to church and are to provide a form of ministry to the sick and housebound, said Fr Cashman.
"Audience surveys have shown that it is these people who are the regular viewers of Sunday morning worship programmes, but there has not been before a church service especially for their needs." he said.
The idea for the services came from a controversial Swedish television series which involved viewers placing bread and wine in front of their television screens
for 'consecration' by a Lutheran minister. But the ITV programmes are based on the provisions for the Communion Service for
the Sick in the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer.
The director of the programmes is Mr Stephen Wade. He said that acceptable forms of service which did not seem to break Canon Law, but which were valid celebrations of the Eucharists had been found.
"The services do not consecrate the bread and wine over the air and viewers' participation is entirely spiritual," he said at a press conference to launch the series.
Fr Tony Cashman added that the televised Mass was not seen as a substitute for the Sunday Mass obligation. "The service is a form of ministry to a specified group of believers -the genuinely sick and housebound who would be excused the Sunday obligation anyway, but still have a need to be fulfilled," he ex plained.
"The prayers during the services will emphasise that you can meet God, even through television." he added.
Southern Television officials and the religious broadcasting officers of the Independent Broadcasting Authority are look ing into the possibility of making the Communion programmes a regular spot, and transmitting them on the ITV network in the future.