What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 5: summary and conclusions

This post concludes the series in the previous posts: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4. It is also intended to be a summary of the whole series for those who don’t want to read it all.

The series started with the Bishop of Chelmsford’s reply to my Open Letter to him, including the words

It has always been the case that Anglicans hold that receiving Communion in one kind we receive the full blessing of the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

His words are based on these commended by the Archbishops:

when [Communion] is received only in one kind the fullness of the Sacrament is received none the less.

My argument is that this is not correct. Anglicans have held a wide range of views about Communion, as I described in parts 2 and 3 of the series. Certainly one of those views is the one set out in the Thirty-Nine articles, which was held by the founders of the Church of England as a separate entity in the 16th century, and is still held by many Anglicans today. I have sought to argue that Anglicans who take this view of Communion cannot consistently agree that “when it is received only in one kind the fullness of the Sacrament is received none the less”, and so that the existence of this view among Anglicans demonstrates that the Archbishops and the Bishop of Chelmsford are wrong.

This also implies that their advice on swine flu is theologically flawed and damaging to the Church. I also believe that it is scientifically flawed, because the risk of catching swine flu from the Communion cup is much less than from all the other interaction at a typical church service – but in this series I am concentrating on the theological issues.

Note carefully that I am by no means trying to impose on my fellow Anglicans this view from the Thirty-Nine Articles, which is similar to my own view. I am merely pointing out that it is a genuinely Anglican view which should not be ignored or marginalised in the Church of England today.

So, what is that I find so objectionable about the Bishop of Chelmsford’s advice to his clergy? It is the words “the fullness of Christ’s presence in the sacrament of Holy Communion”, whereas the Archbishops, and Bishop N.T. Wright, referred only to “the fullness of the Sacrament”. As we saw in part 2 of this series, there are different ideas about in exactly what sense Christ is present in the sacrament. On my own view, and that of the Thirty-Nine Articles, he is present only spiritually, not in any kind of material form. And on that view of course his presence and activity does not depend on me actually consuming anything. So one might expect me to agree with the various bishops that actually drinking the wine is not necessary for the communicant to receive the full blessing of the sacrament.

Yet I cannot agree with this. It is not because an individual does not receive the wine that that person does not receive the full blessing. Rather, in the way I see it, the individual misses out on the blessing because the congregation in general does not receive the wine. So on my view if people with specific health problems, or concerns about the risk of infection, decline one or both of the elements, that does not affect the blessing they receive. What does affect the blessing is when the wine is not offered to the people as a whole, but to no one, or only to a small group of clergy and their assistants.

Why? Because the communion is not being offered according to Jesus Christ’s ordinance. These are his words of institution, as recorded by Matthew:

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”27 Then he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. …”

Matthew 26:26-28 (TNIV)

If the cup is not offered to the assembled people so that all of them can drink from it, if they wish, then the Communion is not being offered as Jesus instituted it. And if the Lord’s ordinance is not followed, then the Communion is nothing but bread and wine, and the Lord’s blessing cannot be presumed on.

Looked at from this perspective, the Archbishops’ advisor’s words are incoherent. He notes, correctly, that

communion in both kinds is the norm in the Church of England, in faithfulness to Christ’s institution,

but then goes on to recommend a different form of Communion which is clearly not “in faithfulness to Christ’s institution”. Surely the Archbishops don’t intend to commend this advice to disobey Jesus Christ? But that is what these words imply. Did Bishop N.T. Wright really intend to give the same advice? But that is what his very similar words amount to.

It is the Bishops of Rochester and Tonbridge who have offered the correct advice, writing that

the Anglican tradition places high spiritual and theological value on sharing in the common cup.

I appeal to all of the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England to endorse these words of Bishops Nazir-Ali and Castle and change their swine flu advice accordingly. They should withdraw their recommendation that the cup should be withheld from lay people. Instead they should advise that, whereas churches may use intinction by the priest if they prefer, and while those who prefer not to take the cup on health grounds should be given a decent option of declining it, the recommended practice in the Church of England remains that of Article 30 of the Thirty-Nine, to offer to the whole congregation the Communion in both kinds.

What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 4

After writing my first, second and third posts in this series all in one day, I needed a bit of a break for reflection, and to catch up on other matters of life, such as pleasing my wife to be. (Yes, I am aware of 1 Corinthians 7:32-34a!) But now I am ready to come back to what various bishops have written about the Communion, and how it doesn’t matter if the wine is not distributed.

John Gladwin, Bishop of Chelmsford, wrote in his letter to his clergy:

Congregation members may need to be assured that receiving communion in one kind in no way diminishes the fullness of Christ’s presence in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

– and then in his reply to my open letter:

It has always been the case that Anglicans hold that receiving Communion in one kind we receive the full blessing of the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Bishop of Chelmsford has very likely based his advice on this which is found in a document which the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have commended:

The clergy should emphasize that while communion in both kinds is the norm in the Church of England, in faithfulness to Christ’s institution, when it is received only in one kind the fullness of the Sacrament is received none the less.

The following version of the advice has been issued apparently in the name of the N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, on his diocesan website:

The Bishop’s view is that congregations should now receive communion in one kind – that is bread only, with only the president receiving the wine. Congregations should be reassured that while communion in both kinds is usual within the Church of England in faithfulness to our Lord’s institution, the fullness of the Sacrament is none the less received in one kind and its validity is not in question.

The advice offered by the Diocese of St Albans is taken almost word for word from the document commended by the Archbishops. No doubt similar advice has been issued by most if not all the dioceses of the Church of England.

Interestingly, however, in their letter to their clergy the controversial Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, and his suffragan the Bishop of Tonbridge, Brian Castle, have taken a very different line. They avoid any suggestion that communion in one kind is acceptable and recommend, as a temporary measure, intinction by the priest – mentioned as an alternative by the Archbishops but not at all by the Bishop of Chelmsford. Most significantly, the Rochester bishops are the only ones I have seen to offer any theological background to their advice:

St. Paul reminds us of the importance of the common cup (I Cor.10.16) … the Anglican tradition places high spiritual and theological value on sharing in the common cup and, therefore, in Communion in both kinds (Article 30).

Well done, Bishops Michael and Brian, for writing this, while carefully avoiding contradicting the Archbishops’ advice. Would that the advice that Rowan Williams and John Sentamu commended had been based not only on Catholic theology but also on the Bible and on Anglican tradition as expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles!

I am now nearly at the end of my discussion, but I will leave that for part 5, in which I summarise the series and present my conclusions.

What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 3

This is a continuation of part 1 and part 2.

Before looking in detail at what the Bishop of Chelmsford wrote about Communion, I want to examine a document drawn to my attention by “BillyD”, commenting at the Thinking Anglicans thread about this matter: an Agreed Statement on Eucharistic Doctrine issued in 1971 by the Anglican – Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). Quoting from this Statement, BillyD claims that

The Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion have “reached substantial agreement on the doctrine of the eucharist.”

But does this mean that the Roman Catholic Church has abandoned the doctrine of transubstantiation, or that the Anglican Communion has abandoned its rejection of this doctrine? I don’t think so. For one thing, this ARCIC agreed statement was never officially accepted as the doctrine of the Church of England, which is still formally based on the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal. Also, this document manages very carefully to avoid specifying any one agreed view of the Communion, instead allowing for the partial truth of each of them. Thus there appears to be a statement of transubstantiation:

Communion with Christ in the eucharist presupposes his true presence, effectually signified by the bread and wine which, in this mystery, become his body and blood.

This statement was sufficiently controversial that it had to be explained in the later (1979) Elucidation document. However, this Elucidation seems to be self-contradictory:

Becoming does not here imply material change. … Before the eucharistic prayer, to the question: ‘What is that?’, the believer answers: ‘It is bread.’ After the eucharistic prayer, to the same question he answers: ‘It is truly the body of Christ, the Bread of Life.’

Well, does the material of the bread remain bread, or does it change into something different? The issue seems to have been fudged.

On the other hand, in the 1971 document there is a section upholding memorialism, in a subtly changed form:

The notion of memorial as understood in the passover celebration at the time of Christ—i.e. the making effective in the present of an event in the past—has opened the way to a clearer understanding of the relationship between Christ’s sacrifice and the eucharist. The eucharistic memorial is no mere calling to mind of a past event or of its significance, but the church’s effectual proclamation of God’s mighty acts. Christ instituted the eucharist as a memorial (anamnesis) of the totality of God’s reconciling action in him.

And there is a clear statement of real spiritual presence, with the body and blood of Christ being received only by faith:

The sacramental body and blood of the Savior are present as an offering to the believer awaiting his welcome. When this offering is met by faith, a lifegiving encounter results. … Christ’s body and blood become really present and are really given. But they are really present and given in order that, receiving them, believers may be united in communion with Christ the Lord.

So what has been billed as “substantial agreement” is in reality a recognition that each of the views is part of the truth about the Communion, but that no one view is complete and perfect. Well, this reminds me of what I have written about the Atonement, that each of the models of it offers part of the truth, but no one of them is a complete description of a reality beyond human comprehension. I am happy to apply the same principle to models of the Communion.

But I am not sure if it is possible to avoid giving a clear answer to a simple question like this one: if some consecrated bread and wine by accident find their way out of the church building and are eaten by an unbelieving beggar who doesn’t know where they came from, is the beggar in any sense receiving the body and blood of Christ? Roman Catholics would certainly answer “yes”, because for them the elements have objectively become the body and blood, and I think most Anglicans today would do as well. But my answer would be “no”, and that was clearly the answer of the author of Article 29 of the Thirty-Nine, based on no less an authority than Augustine of Hippo:

The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ …

So I can’t agree that this ARCIC document provides an acceptable “substantial agreement on the doctrine of the eucharist”. Nor can I give priority to this supposedly agreed view over the understanding set out in the historic formularies of the Church of England. The ARCIC view may be one Anglican view of the Communion, but it is by no means the only one that needs to be recognised as genuinely Anglican.

I hadn’t intended to write quite so much on this issue, but it has become long enough for its own part of this series. So I will leave the discussion for now and continue in part 4part 5: summary and conclusions.

A happier missive from the Bishop of Chelmsford

Coincidentally I received today another missive from the Bishop of Chelmsford, nothing to do with Communion, which starts as follows:

JOHN by Divine Permission LORD BISHOP OF CHELMSFORD  To our well-beloved in Christ  PETER RICHARD KIRK  a single person and  LORENZA … a single person a citizen of Italy both residing in the Parish of St Mary Great Baddow in the County of Essex

GRACE AND HEALTH  Whereas you are as it is alleged resolved to proceed to the Holy Estate of Matrimony …

Yes, this document with its greeting in pseudo-biblical language is our marriage licence. As Lorenza is not British, and we want to get married in church here in England, we have to follow this procedure, rather than having our banns read. We considered getting married in Italy, but the paperwork for that would have been much more complicated. This licence is valid for three months, and that means that it is now less then three months until our wedding, on 24th October.

I don’t suppose the Bishop of Chelmsford had a personal hand in issuing this document. If he had, in the light of my open letter to him, I wonder if he would have refused, or at least modified “well-beloved in Christ”! But then I doubt if he could have refused, given the way that the Church of England is tied up by its own laws and those of the state. Anyway, Lorenza and I are very happy that there is now no legal impediment to our marriage.

What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 2

This post is a continuation of part 1.

I intend to look specifically at the Bishop of Chelmsford’s statement

It has always been the case that Anglicans hold that receiving Communion in one kind we receive the full blessing of the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But first I would like to examine the different understandings of Communion or the Eucharist which have been held in various parts of the Church, and compare them with the teaching of the Thirty-Nine Articles. I use the term “Communion” (not “Holy Communion”) as that is what it is called in the Book of Common Prayer; in the Articles it is referred to as “the Lord’s Supper”.

There are several different understandings of the Communion, and specifically of whether and how Jesus Christ is really present during it, as conveniently summarised here:

  • Transubstantiation: This is the Roman Catholic view that the substance of the elements (the bread and the wine) is transformed into the body and blood of Christ, while retaining the accidents (physical and chemical properties) of bread and wine. This understanding is specifically rejected in Article 28 of the Thirty-Nine:

    Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.

  • Consubstantiation and Sacramental Union: In these two slightly differing understandings, associated especially with the Lutheran church, the elements are considered to remain bread and wine, and the body and blood of Christ are said to be united with the bread and the wine in some objective way, irrespective of the faith of the recipient. This view, which implies that even unbelievers who take the elements receive the body and blood, is repudiated by these parts of Articles 28 and 29 of the Thirty-Nine:

    The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith. …

    The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ …

  • “Objective reality, but pious silence about technicalities”: The view so described at Wikipedia, and attributed to “perhaps most Anglicans”, is also condemned by the same parts of Articles 28 and 29, which clearly rule out any objective reality understanding of the Communion.
  • Memorialism: In this view, associated with the Reformer Zwingli and held by most Protestant Christians apart from Anglicans and Lutherans, the Communion is simply a memorial of the death of Jesus, and “Christ is not present in the sacrament, except in the minds and hearts of the communicants.” This view also seems to go against the Thirty-Nine Articles, in this case again Article 28:

    The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.

  • Real Spiritual presence, or Pneumatic presence: This view, or spectrum of views, is that Jesus Christ is present in the Communion in a real but spiritual way, for those who receive the elements with faith. This clearly seems to be the concept expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles, in particular in the passage just quoted from Article 28. It is also my own view of the Communion. At Wikipedia this view is explained as the Holy Spirit making Christ present. But the Thirty-Nine Articles do not make explicit the agency of the Holy Spirit; instead they use sacramental language, specifically in Articles 25 and 26:

    Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.

    … the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ’s institution and promise …

I note these last words “effectual, because of Christ’s institution and promise”, which are significant because they imply that the Communion has to be performed according to “Christ’s institution and promise”. That is one point that I have at issue with the Bishop of Chelmsford’s instructions. I also want to argue that the Bishop is presupposing a view of the Communion which goes against the Thirty-Nine Articles and so, I would claim, is not an authentically Anglican one.

I will continue this in part 3part 4, part 5: summary and conclusions.

What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 1

The Bishop of Chelmsford graciously replied to my Open Letter to him, as follows:

Dear Peter

It has always been the case that Anglicans hold that receiving Communion in one kind we receive the full blessing of the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our normal practice is to receive in both kinds but there may be circumstances when that is not possible or desirable. A number of people, for example, with alcohol related problems, receive the bread only. They need assurance that our Lord meets them fully in the sacrament.

So this is nothing new.


I am grateful for this helpful response. I thank the Bishop for bringing up the issue of those who choose not to receive the wine, including recovering alcoholics. I would indeed want to assure them “that our Lord meets them fully in the sacrament”. However, I do think there is a fundamental distinction to be made between individuals voluntarily declining the wine and a general refusal to offer it to lay people.

I was a little surprised by the Bishop’s words “It has always been the case that Anglicans hold that …” If this is intended to refer to all Anglicans, I don’t think there is any way in which this sentence could be completed truthfully, at least concerning any positive doctrine.

From its very beginnings, in the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth I, there has been a huge diversity of theology in the Church of England. For many centuries that diversity was at least formally held within the constraints not only of the Creeds but also of the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal. At one time all clergy had to assent to these. Now, as Doug helpfully outlines, concerning the last three of these clergy have to affirm only that they are the “historic formularies” of the Church of England. In practice by the late 20th century the range of belief in the Church had become so wide that a Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, could doubt the Resurrection, and high profile priests like Don Cupitt could deny the existence of a personal God.

So, I would argue, there is just about nothing theological concerning which we can say “It has always been the case that Anglicans hold” it, except perhaps for a few negatives like rejecting the authority of the Pope. That is in fact the fundamental weakness of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion: there really is nothing to hold it together except for tradition and, for the Church of England only, its threatened position as the “Established” Church. Even the self-identity as being distinct from the Roman Catholic Church is under threat at the moment, for example in the way that the Archbishop of Canterbury is using the term “the Church Catholic”. So it is perhaps hardly surprising that the Anglican Communion is falling apart and the Church of England is seriously divided.

Nevertheless there has always been a strong core of Anglicans who accept at least the great majority of the teaching of the Thirty-Nine Articles, including that in Articles 25 to 31 about the Lord’s Supper, otherwise known as the Communion or the Eucharist. While an overview of what various Anglicans have believed about Communion should not be restricted to this understanding, it certainly must include this understanding.

But, I would argue, the Bishop of Chelmsford’s summary of what Anglicans have held contradicts the Thirty-Nine Articles, as well as biblical teaching, and so ignores the beliefs of those who continue to uphold the “historic formularies” of the Church of England. I introduced my demonstration of this in a previous post. I now want to look more closely at what the Bishop has specifically said about Communion.

But as this post is already quite long I will split it here and continue later, and add links to the following parts here: part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5: summary and conclusions.

Anglicans and Anglican'ts

Archbishop Rowan Williams (unlike Bishop John of Chelmsford) has not yet responded to my challenge to his advice on communion. No doubt this is because he has been busy with a threat not to the Anglican practice of communion but to the Anglican Communion itself – one which certainly deserves more of his attention than swine flu.

It is nearly two weeks since, in response to the TEC bishops’ decision to end the moratorium on consecrating practising homosexuals as bishops, I announced (with a question  mark) The end of the Anglican Communion as we know it? Since then Archbishop Rowan has been largely silent on the matter, although it was called “a direct snub” to him. But now he has spoken out in an article subtitled “Reflections on the Episcopal Church’s 2009 General Convention from the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful of the Anglican Communion”, published on his website and reported on by Ruth Gledhill.

To summarise, Rowan Williams confirms what I announced. In the future he envisages, the Anglican Communion will look very different, “a two-tier communion of covenanted and non-covenanted provinces”. The latter will have very much a second class role in the continuing Communion, not permitted to represent it to outsiders. In the Archbishop’s words:

perhaps we are faced with the possibility rather of a ‘two-track’ model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage, one of which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value and so had in good faith declined a covenantal structure. If those who elect this model do not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the ‘covenanted’ body participates, this is simply because within these processes there has to be clarity about who has the authority to speak for whom.

In referring to those who put local autonomy above a covenantal structure, the Archbishop clearly has TEC in mind, as the subtitle and start of his article make clear. I suppose his “perhaps” reflects a continuing hope that TEC will after all fall into line and sign up to the proposed Anglican Covenant, which will clearly exclude taking unilateral decisions on matters like homosexual bishops. But there seems very little chance of that now.

Archbishop Rowan’s defence of his position on homosexual bishops is interesting:

5. In response, it needs to be made absolutely clear that, on the basis of repeated statements at the highest levels of the Communion’s life, no Anglican has any business reinforcing prejudice against LGBT people, questioning their human dignity and civil liberties or their place within the Body of Christ. Our overall record as a Communion has not been consistent in this respect and this needs to be acknowledged with penitence.

6. However, the issue is not simply about civil liberties or human dignity or even about pastoral sensitivity to the freedom of individual Christians to form their consciences on this matter. It is about whether the Church is free to recognise same-sex unions by means of public blessings that are seen as being, at the very least, analogous to Christian marriage.

7. In the light of the way in which the Church has consistently read the Bible for the last two thousand years, it is clear that a positive answer to this question would have to be based on the most painstaking biblical exegesis and on a wide acceptance of the results within the Communion, with due account taken of the teachings of ecumenical partners also. A major change naturally needs a strong level of consensus and solid theological grounding.

8. This is not our situation in the Communion. Thus a blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole. And if this is the case, a person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond; whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church’s teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires.

9. In other words, the question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity. It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences. …

Indeed. I hope it never will be the situation that the Anglican Communion accepts gay “marriage”. But I agree that “no Anglican has any business reinforcing prejudice against LGBT people”.

Archbishop Rowan clearly distances himself from talk of schism and excommunication, referring instead to

two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the Communion. It should not need to be said that a competitive hostility between the two would be one of the worst possible outcomes, and needs to be clearly repudiated.

But this is strong language from the normally very cautious Archbishop, stating a clear position that if TEC does not fall into line and sign up to the Covenant it will no longer have a place in the inner circles of the Communion.

As Ruth reports,

This leaves a church cleverly described as Anglicans and Anglican’ts by Otsota on Twitter.

Well, if the TEC bishops are the Anglican’ts, for once I am proud to be an Anglican.

PS Can anyone explain these words of the Archbishop?:

14. Sometimes in Christian history, of course, that wider discernment has been very fallible, as with the history of the Chinese missions in the seventeenth century.

The easy solution to the swine flu communion problem

Disposable Communion Cups per 1000Disposable Communion Cups per 1000 

A disposable plastic cup. Sold in packs of 1000. Will fit all JM Supplies trays. Base 18mm dia, top 32mm dia, height 30mm. NB No minimum order online, but a minimum order of 3 boxes (3,000 cups) by phone unless ordered with a tray. Our most popular cup.

This item is usually dispatched within 7 working days

Price: £19.28 inc VAT.

Instead of withdrawing the communion cup, as advised by the Archbishops and the Bishop of Chelmsford, why not distribute the wine in these, until the swine flu panic (or should I say “pandemic”?) is over?

I don’t intend to promote any one company’s products over alternatives. This is just the first such product I found, here.

Churches who use these can continue to offer communion in both kinds, using alcoholic or non-alcoholic wine, without any concerns about swine flu. They can be handed out in such a way that each communicant touches only their own cup. All at a cost of less than 2p per person. There is probably no need to buy the special, and quite expensive, trays into which these cups fit.

Theologically I would prefer the wine to be offered from a common cup as Jesus certainly envisaged – and for the bread to be offered from a common loaf, not as wafers or pre-cut squares. But especially during the current situation I would consider wine served from separate cups an acceptable alternative.

There is of course an issue about what to do with the cups after use. In my evangelical tradition we could simply throw the cups into the bins for disposal of tissues which, according to advice from the government and from the Diocese of Chelmsford (I missed this advice when I wrote my open letter to the Bishop of Chelmsford, but referred to it in a comment), should have been placed in every church – but have not yet been placed in mine. No doubt some Anglo-Catholics would object to this and want to clean the cups in a special way before disposing of them – well then, they are welcome.

The only problem I see is that this is not an environmentally friendly solution. So if this is intended as more than a very temporary measure, I would suggest that churches invest in a set of non-disposable plastic, glass or stainless steel individual cups. But of course these will certainly need to be washed after each use.

So let’s have no more talk in the Church of England about withdrawing the communion wine from the lay people, going against the historic formularies of the Church and the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles. Instead, let’s use the simple method I have described here of avoiding any health risk while obeying Jesus’ command to “Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25).

Bishop John, we are not assured, give us back the cup!

An open letter to Rt Rev John Gladwin, Bishop of Chelmsford, who will retire on 31 August but for now is still in charge of his diocese:

Dear Bishop John,

As an active and theologically educated lay Anglican, I am concerned by the advice you have issued recommending “temporary suspension of the chalice”. I have serious theological issues with this advice, which appears to be in direct contradiction to Jesus’ Words of Institution and to apostolic teaching (1 Corinthians 11:25-29), as well as to Article 30 of the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer which both prescribe communion in both kinds.

You write to your clergy:

Congregation members may need to be assured that receiving communion in one kind in no way diminishes the fullness of Christ’s presence in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

But you give no guidance to your clergy about how they should assure us congregation members of this. Personally I do not see how I could be assured, because communion in one kind clearly goes against Jesus’ commands and so his presence in it cannot be expected. I would be very interested to see any proper theological advice on this issue which you could issue to clergy and lay people like myself. I and I am sure many others are not prepared to accept such teaching simply on your personal authority, especially when it seems to contradict biblical teaching and the historic doctrine of the Church of England.

I understand that you have taken this step according to advice from the Archbishops. Indeed (from the dated copy of your letter forwarded to me by one of your clergy; the online version is undated) you seem to have passed on this advice on the same day, 22nd July, that it was issued, suggesting that little reflection was given to its implications. I have responded at some length to the Archbishops’ advice in an article which I have posted on my blog at http://www.qaya.org/blog/?p=1196.

I note one change you have made to the Archbishops’ advice: you have omitted their recommendation of intinction by the presiding minister. But this omission makes things worse. I do not appreciate intinction, which is not a biblical practice, nor one envisaged by the founders of the Church of England, but it does somewhat mitigate the theological wrong of withdrawing the communion cup.

I accept that this step has been taken in the light of swine flu. However, the proper medical advice is that this flu is no more dangerous than the regular flu which does the rounds every winter, and which has not prompted withdrawal of the communion cup from the laity; also that the risk of catching swine flu from a shared cup is less than the risk from all of the other interaction that takes place at any public gathering. I note also that in the summary of Department of Health advice linked to by the Archbishops priority is given to advice that

churches need to ensure that bins for the disposal of tissues are available at all public gatherings, that surfaces are frequently cleaned and that hand-washing facilities, including disposable towels, are well maintained.  Churches should also consider supplying tissues at services and other meetings as well as providing hand-washing gel.

But I see no record that you have passed this advice on to your clergy. Surely you should have ensured that these non-controversial steps are being taken in your churches before passing on, without proper reflection, advice from the Archbishops which has serious theological implications.

I’m afraid to say that the Archbishops’ advice and yours show all the signs of being prompted by panic as stirred up by the media. The proper reaction from church leaders to such panic should not be ill thought out measures with seriously bad side effects, but carefully considered advice about what would really minimise the risk of infection at church services and other meetings.

I regret that I am unable to consider myself a communicant member of the Church of England in the Diocese of Chelmsford, or any other diocese making similar changes to historic practices, until I see an acceptable theological justification for withdrawal of the communion cup, or until the administration of the Communion is restored according to the Lord’s command and the historic formularies of the Church of England.

Peter Kirk
Lay member of Meadgate Church in the parish of Great Baddow