Thursday, July 16, 2009

Flu Epidemic and Holy Communion

I have just received instructions from the Bishop of Blackburn that clergy are only to give out bread at communion services until further notice. A chalice will be used in the communion prayer, but only the priest will receive. This is to avoid communion becoming a means by which the flu virus is spread. There is other advice about other aspects of church life as well.

These instructions have been taken from a government document on the Communities and Local Government website called "Faith Communities and Pandemic Flu: Guidance for faith communities and local influenza pandemic committees". The hotlink is to the pdf (223kb)

The document states that the sharing of common vessels in communion and other faith communities' ceremonies should cease in a pandemic. This will be a significant shock for the vast majority of Anglicans. We are used to receiving communion "in both kinds" - i.e. bread and wine, so it will feel as if we are only half taking part. As a minister presiding at communion it will be even more strange, as we will be the only ones who receive from the cup.

One question is, of course, whether this will prove to be necessary. Other seasonal flu outbreaks have taken thousands of lives without regulations such as this being introduced. However, this is a new strain, and may take a more lethal turn if it mutates.

One solution, of course, would be to arrange for a Methodist colleague to lead a celebration of communion according to the Methodist Church order in a C of E Church (which is now allowed under the Methodist-Anglican covenant). Each communicant has a separate glass, so the common cup isn't an issue. Of course not all my C of E colleagues would find that very easy...

We must wait and see, but the strange situation is developing where a virus is affecting our freedom to worship. I suspect there will be not a few letters and emails flying in the coming days!


Mr Chris said...

I knew the Methodist way would come in handy, and here we are.
The Uni is planning for another wave in October with the current wave subsiding about now.

Anonymous said...

"Scientific advice does confirm that the risk of contamination from the chalice is minimal,
particularly for healthy people, but that there might be a negligible risk for those with
underlying health complaints."

The Bishop's letter states the risk to be minimal if healthy and negligible for those with underlying problems. One wonders what the response would have been had the risk been escalated to "low" or (shudder) even higher.

Mike Peatman said...

In some ways I'd rather abstain fro communion altogether, rather than try and do it 'safely'.

Fr Matthew McMurray said...

Perhaps the whole point is that it wasn't 'safe'!

Much as it pains me to say (being a daily communicant here at Westcott in term time), we could probably learn a lot if we were forced not to share Holy Communion for a little while.

Steve Tilley said...

We caught you up today. No wine in Bath and Wells from now on.