Communion ‘on the moon’


Becky Clark, the Church of England’s Director of Churches and Cathedrals, looks at how cathedrals are marking the anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing.

Apollo 11 was the first crewed mission to land on the moon, and this week marks 50 years since the day – 20th July 1969. What many people don’t know is that 20th July is also the date of the first ever extra-terrestrial communion. Buzz Aldrin was an elder at Webster Presbyterian Church, and before he headed into space in 1969, he got special permission to take bread and wine with him to space and give himself communion. Aldrin took the bread and wine inside the Eagle lunar module, after it had landed on the moon’s Sea of Tranquillity, during an hour-long downtime designed to let the astronauts recover from their space flight and prepare for their moon walk.

Recognising the importance of the anniversary – and its Christian connection – many cathedrals and major churches have been taking part in moon-themed activities. Last Sunday a service to mark the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing was broadcast live from Leicester Cathedral. The service, led by the Dean of Leicester, the Very Revd David Monteith, to celebrate the achievement of the Apollo 11 Mission, asked whether the ‘giant leap’ has made us more, or less aware, of our own human limitations and of our longing for God.

On Saturday 20th July, the anniversary day, Lichfield Cathedral will open ‘One Small Step’, an installation artwork by Artist-in-Residence Peter Walker that will give visitors the opportunity to walk on the moon by transforming the Cathedral Nave floor into a lunar landscape. The evening of the opening day will include a special communion service ‘on the moon’. In their words ‘This installation allows us to contemplate and observe one of the most significant journeys that humanity has taken and allows us to imagine possibilities for humankind.’ During August they will also be hosting ‘The Great Exhibition 2019: SPACE: God, The Universe and Everything’, a light show inside the Cathedral, and holding ‘Film Club on the Moon’ with choices for everyone, from Frozen to Jurassic Park, to Back to the Future. One Small Step is open until 25th September.

Also on 20th July, Birmingham Cathedral is hosting two showings of ‘Interstellar’, an immersive, spectacular show celebrating the moon landing, with Secret Symphony's 50-Piece Limelight Orchestra performing all things space and stars. You will also be able to see the show in very different surroundings at Coventry Cathedral in August.

If you’re in the North of England then Ripon Cathedral is encouraging visitors to help them cycle to the moon and back(over 380,000kms) before September, as part of a month of Ripon Cycling Together, ahead of the arrival of the UCI World Cycling Championships coming through the city in September. You can take a turn on the static bike in the Cathedral, or add to their online tally. 

The Museum of the Moon, a huge model of the moon by artist Luke Jerram, has toured round the country, including many churches and cathedrals, and attracted tens of thousands of additional visitors - check Instagram for some wonderful photos. Later this year it will be at Derby, Leicester, and Gloucester Cathedrals. The Association of English Cathedrals has produced a run-down of lots more cathedral moon-related activities.

A moon installation at a cathedral.

Engaging with important events and anniversaries like this, even when the link might not seem obvious initially, is an important part of being a welcoming church where everyone can find a way of engaging. Cathedrals and major churches have large buildings that were designed to welcome people in, and through initiatives like marking the moon landings they continue to show the importance of an open door. It can be big and bold, but it can also be smaller ideas in any parish church that demonstrate to people that the church building they walk past every day belongs in part to them, and invites them to come in, spend time, get involved, and leave with the knowledge they can always come back.

If you're involved in a church and would like advice on the sorts of events you could hold, or explore how your church building can be used by the wider community, check out some ideas here. Consider promoting your church to visitors by adding it to the National Churches Trust's Explore Churches site, as well as putting events on A Church Near You.