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

0 thoughts on “Bishop John, we are not assured, give us back the cup!

  1. Peter

    a measured and reasonable letter. The Church should surely give a lead in avoiding knee jerk reactions. And ignoring the Archbishops’ advice on intincture, even though that is less than ideal, is extrordinary. My own vicar is at New Wine this week, and we have a stand in tomorrow. I will await developments in St Albans Diocese with interest.

  2. Peter, I entirely agree with your basic point about the theology of communion under one kind, but the Sacrament Act 1547 does still apply, and I am told makes provision for the kind of intinction that the Archbishops have now commended. As a temporary measure the government has formally asked Churches to suspend the use of a common cup (making it a Romans 13 issue for some?). Bishop Andrew Burnham has issued really helpful theologically based advice for those of a Catholic disposition.

    Practically speaking I am told the most dangerous thing of the lot is to take bread, transfer to it all the iggy wiggy germs from your hands, then dunk it in the cup for everyone else to enjoy, whilst you pick up anything they have cared to transfer to you off their iggy wiggy fingers. Anything but that, please.

    Is the government over-reacting, too much too soon? Could be. I’m not qualified to say. But I’m entirely with you that the Common Cup is, like “One Loaf” part of the teaching of the NT, and I very much hope we will be back to normal soon.

    I am also struck by the thought that we don’t all get any other kind of flu from the common cup, so why this? But that’s a question for the government’s advisers who gave this formal direction in the first place.

    I also have a suspicion that for some government advisers, they may be thinking Communion is a kind of leisuretime extra so it doesn’t really matter if Churches hang up for a while. I would really object to such an attitude — entirely against the Bible, the BCP, and core Christian values. We should draw near to the Lord all the more to seek healing, not slackening in prayer.

    So we just have to try and see this thing for what it is, aware that it may not be all it’s been cracked up to be. I’ll be interested to see what other people make of it here.

  3. Thank you, Colin. Yes, extraordinary.

    And thank you, Bishop Alan. I note that the Archbishops’ letter refers only to “advice from the Department of Health”, not legally binding instructions. So I hardly think that Romans 13 applies unless “advice” is a euphemism. And why are the governments’ advisers better qualified than the Church’s to examine the church’s practices? The Church can certainly call upon medical expertise from within its own ranks. So I appreciate that you too object to the attitude that it doesn’t matter if we stop sharing the cup for a while. I just wish that your fellow bishops and archbishops took the same approach, or at least thought about this theologically before rushing into action.

  4. The advice from Bishop Andrew Burnham is here. I note that this was issued on 17th July, so before the latest advice from the Archbishops. The suggestion that the cup be made available at a separate station for those who wish to receive it makes sense in principle, but may be difficult to put into practice. I note the following:

    People should be reassured that, as medical advice at the time of the outbreak of HIV-AIDS indicated, the risk of infection by means of the chalice is minimal: precious metal must always be used for the cup and the wine therein is alcoholic.

  5. Gary, in my own evangelical Anglican church, once a month in the morning and once in the evening. But in very many churches, not just Anglo-Catholic ones, it is the main service every Sunday morning.

  6. I have now found on the diocesan website some further advice (dated 1st May on the website but this seems to be similar but not identical advice to that in a letter dated 8th July quoted by John Richardson) which does include, amongst other items, the following:

    Ensure that tissues are available as well as bins for the safe disposal of used tissues. …

    Hygiene in church should continue to be taken very seriously, and churches may wish to consider providing bins for used tissues (not the open waste-paper bin type, but a closed top, pedal or swing top bin.)

    So I should withdraw my suggestion that the diocese did not issue any advice on this matter. The fault is apparently that of churches like my own which failed to act on this advice, while taking precipitate action to change communion practices.

    In that same letter there is a sensible suggestion that in some particularly high risk circumstances communion in one kind may be advisable, with the following note:

    Congregations may need assurance that in receiving Holy Communion in one kind in no way suggests that they are not receiving the fullness of Christ’s presence in the Sacrament.

    But I am afraid that their italicised “in no way” seems to be an attempt to cover up with emphasis what is in fact complete theological nonsense. Or if it isn’t, please give us a proper justification for that “in no way”.

    Meanwhile someone has told me that yesterday was Bishop John’s last day in his office. Is that true? Is he still Bishop of Chelmsford, or not? If he is, is he prepared to take responsibility for what he has written in his last week in the office, or is he just running away? Well, we will not let him get away with changing the practice of the church in his diocese in his last few days.

  7. I had not picked up on + Alan’s guidance until his contribution above. Both his comment here and his guidance look sensible given the situation. Though I totally agree with the many doubts expressed by Peter – why just for this strain of flu, we have access to our own medical opinion etc. I was also interested to read + Andrew stating the chalice should be of precious metal. Perhaps there is some truth in my vicar’s comment about the anti septic properties of our silver plate. To answer Gary, in my own church, as well as a midweek Communion, we have an 8am said Communion every Sunday unless there is no cover, and the main morning service is a Commumion twice a month.

    My fellow Reader is also likely to go forward for training and approval in taking Communion by extension. I won’t myself, because of the tremor. But that is another theological question.

    I look forward to tomorrow with interest. what will our cover , assisted by my fellow reader do?

  8. My vicar has acted quickly. Before leaving for new wine he had decided we would communicate in one kind only – not use the president intincting option. Our stand in’s own church has decided the same, so he went with that.

    There was some muttering when he announced it at the start. And spome confusion ar the rail for those who came in late and missed the announcement, and als walked straight past the notice on the church door. But then posted notices are known to be the best way to keep a secret!

    So not exactly welcomed, and all done under pressure. Only hope the Archbishops take the initiative, rather than simply react, over when to relax it.

    Incidentally, our stand in did confirm that alcohol in a silver cup has such antiseptic properties that HIV, common colds and “normal” flu are neutralised. but the swine flu virus is not. He too is a scientist by training. Helpful comment.

  9. There are a number of issues that should be raised and, I trust, some pretty unobjectionable solutions. Do the Archbishops have the authority to alter the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper? No they do not. This means that communion in one kind cannot be imposed upon the laity. The solutions are either (a) ignore the Archbishop’s advice and continue with Communion in both kinds; (b) practice Communion with both kinds but don’t use a common cup; (c) temporarily stop celebrating Communion. I would favour either (a) or (b) however as there is a legitimate concern over the spread of Swine Flu I would go with (b). A common cup is desirable but not essential in the celebration of Holy Communion, wine is.

  10. Colin, thanks for this. Your vicar has made a decision of which he should be ashamed. I hope that he is touched by God so strongly at New Wine that he repents of his precipitate action.

    Please can you ask your stand-in to provide any kind of scientific evidence or source for his contention that the swine flu virus is any more resistant to alcohol and silver than the regular flu virus. I would be EXTREMELY surprised if any such research has even been attempted in the last few months. This swine flu virus is only a minor variant of the regular flu virus and is very unlikely to be significantly different in this respect.

    I strongly suspect that your stand-in was deceiving your congregation on this matter, probably making up his story on the spot. If so, this is completely unacceptable behaviour from a priest in the Church of England. Please pass this on to him and let me know his response.

  11. Thank you, Richard. I agree. In general I consider a common cup to be preferable to individual ones, just as I consider a common loaf to be preferable to wafers, or pieces of regular bread cut up before the service. But in the current circumstances it makes sense to use separate cups.

    In case any church is concerned about the expense of this, I note that disposable communion cups can be purchased for less than £20 for 1000. With care one can probably manage without a special tray.

  12. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » The easy solution to the swine flu communion problem

  13. Earlier today I sent the following edited version of this post to the our two local newspapers, the Essex Chronicle and the Chelmsford Weekly News:

    PRESS RELEASE for immediate publication

    An open letter to Rt Rev John Gladwin, Bishop of Chelmsford, who will retire on 31 August [1] but for now is still in charge of his diocese: I have posted this on my blog [2] and am hereby copying it to my Rural Dean, my Team Rector, and my Team Vicar.

    [This is an edited version of the original open letter omitting some material which I have now discovered is not quite correct.]

    Dear Bishop John,

    As an active and theologically educated lay Anglican, I am concerned by the advice you have issued [3] 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 [4]. 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 [5].

    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’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.

    Peter Kirk
    Lay member of Meadgate Church in the parish of Great Baddow
    [my address]
    Tel. […]

    [1] http://www.chelmsford.anglican.org/bishop-of-chelmsford-announces-retirement.html
    [2] http://www.qaya.org/blog/?p=1198
    [3] http://www.chelmsford.anglican.org/bishop-recommends-temporary-suspension-of-chalice.html
    [4] http://www.cofe.anglican.org/news/swineflu230709.html
    [5] http://www.qaya.org/blog/?p=1196

  14. Peter

    Personally I would have decided to allow the intinction route. But in fairness he had to make an instant decision based on + Alan’s missive of 23 July, with no time for consultation. Sometimes leadership requires that sort of decision, just as management in the workplace does. We have a staff meeting in 10 days, I will probe further and seek relaxation.

    On the subject of transmission or not via alcohol and precious metal cups, please see this link. I found it via + alan’s own missive.

    http://www.cofe.anglican.org/info/swineflu/communion.doc

    The main text refers especially to Annex B which makes similar points to our stand in. So no, I cannot agree he was making it up, which would indeed be a poor thing. Whether we consider the content of the link adequate proof is an open question. As a non scientist, beyond my ancient A level, I would not feel able to challenge it.

    As a further twist, I have recently returned from a Churches Together service at my local Methodist church. Their stewards are no longer shaking hands. That looks remarkable and more than a little OTT to me. Perhaps Dave Faulkner can comment on whether this is national or local district/circuit advice.

  15. Thanks, Colin. Perhaps I was a bit unfair on your vicar.

    Which Bishop Alan’s missive are you referring to? Not I think anything written by the blogging Bishop Alan Wilson, whose only comments on this matter I have seen are his comment 312355 above and this one. Do you mean Bishop Alan Smith of St Albans, your diocesan I think, although not yet inaugurated? I was confused and so I am sure are my readers here. So is this the missive you referred to?

    I find it very poor form that this bishop (rather like my own) should be instructing his clergy to mislead their congregations:

    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.

    In fact this whole sentence is based on a misunderstanding of the Sacrament, as it is supposed to be understood in the Church of England.

    And then on what basis does + Alan St Albans write:

    Individual cups are not permitted and do not resolve the hygiene issues in the present pandemic where infection is transmitted via droplet.

    Who does not permit it? Is this bishop exercising his own authority here? Or is there some canon or something of that sort forbidding it? And on what health advice does he suggest that there is any health danger from this? I suppose people could breathe droplets of infected communion wine over one another, but then they are all the time breathing droplets of saliva over one another, and the only solution to that one is to forbid people from breathing in church!

    Meanwhile thanks to the link to the document ADMINISTRATION OF HOLY COMMUNION DURING A FLU PANDEMIC, which I had not seen before. But this does not state what you said that your stand-in priest said, that the swine flu virus is more resistant to alcohol and silver than ordinary flu virus. Perhaps the point is supposed to be that it is more prevalent – except that in fact it isn’t, at least at the moment in England. There is nothing in this advice about any dangers from the separate cups. I note also the name given, Brendan McCarthy, and I will send him a link to this series of posts.

  16. Peter

    I do apologise for the confusion. Too many episcopal Alans around. Well until our previous Dicocesan retired, two of our 3 bishops were called Christopher! Yes I was indeed thinking of my own yet to be enthroned diocesan, to which you link above. And as I said above, personally I would prefer the intinction option to one kind only.

    I have no idea about the legality or otherwise of the thimble cups in the CoE. And I would not presume to comment on their hygiene implications. My simple logic says to me that they ought to be more hygenic provided the ablutions are carefully handled. But then that is true of the chalice as well. Yet I have been seeing statements that they are suspect. What should I conclude? In any case like you I prefer the symbolism of the common cup, apart from my personal practical preference for it.

    On the other document, it will be interesdting to how your own perusals develop. I felt that the section headed Pandemic Flu, 2nd para was suggesting that even alcohol plus silver was less of a protection against at least new pandemic viruses such as we face now. How significant that risk is, is another matter. I guess we are talking balance of probabilities here.

  17. Colin, it does seem that swine flu is more susceptible than regular flu to transmission during warm humid weather. That could suggest that the swine flu virus is generally more resistant. Or it might be less resistant to alcohol or silver as a side effect of becoming more resistant to warmth. I would be very surprised if anyone knows yet, they are simply guessing.

    What is not just a guess is that swine flu is more prevalent and spreading more quickly in the UK than regular flu does in July – its spread is more like that of regular flu in an average winter. It is probably only that prevalence and infectiousness which makes it a greater risk than ordinary flu.

  18. I have now sent my Press Release, as in comment 312839 above, also to the Church Times and the Church of England Newspaper. They are probably more likely to be interested than my local newspapers. By the way I will be careful not to suggest to the local newspapers, if they get back to me, that there is a split in the church here. I will blame it more on bad government advice passed on without proper consideration.

  19. I have just received a response from Bishop John, apparently in person (so maybe he is still in the office), 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.

    +John

    I am considering my response to this.

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  21. Hi Peter

    Interesting reply from +John.

    There is a very faithful member of the church family here in my parish who is a recovering alcoholic. She does not receive the wine at HC, for the very reason that it would throw her back off the wagon. When we found ourselves discussing the possibility of suspending the sharing of the wine a few weeks ago – when it was simply a mooted possible development – she said back to me “Well, I have been receiving the Lord these past few years, haven’t I? The wine is a danger to me, and I know my God doesn’t wish that for me – it is in my Lord’s Prayer every day!”

    Couldn’t argue with her.

    As I have said elsewhere, a theology or ecclesiology without pastoral sense in its liturgy is no theology or ecclesiology at all, in a proper sense…

  22. Thanks, Paul. Yes, Bishop John’s point about alcoholics is an important one. But that is about an individual choosing, for very good reason, not to receive, not about bishops and priests deciding not to let the laity drink the wine, the very point of contention at the Reformation. I need to come back to this.

  23. A recovering alcoholic who is on the wagon and being supported in their abstention by others – my parishioner is supported by a group within the congregation and, more powerfully I suspect, by her Sunday evening AA group – may make this decision, though ‘choose’ is perhaps not quite the correct term to use for the decision and resolution.

    Were I to know that a communicant were an alcoholic, and that my administration were the weekly trigger for a binge-session, I might have to go away and pray about my response as her pastor, and pastor to others who might be adversely affected by her behaviours, then and subsequently

    Were alcoholism an infectious illness – which, thank God, it isn’t, ghastly as it is – my pastoral task would, aguably, get more onerous and serious still.

    Is this not the question before the Bishops? As chief pastors, with responsibility for oversight, do they not have to make what is primarily a pastoral judgment, with pastoral consequences? Is it not this that they are doing, rather than “deciding not to let the laity drink the wine”?

    I still think that this is absolutely NOT the same question of clericy and heresy with which the Reformers struggled. If it were, I should agree with your condemnation of it. However, it is not, so I don’t.

    Go well.

  24. Paul, I would support a clergy person who refused the cup to a known recovering alcoholic or to someone known to be suffering from swine flu. But that is not the situation we are talking about.

    We are talking about bishops and priests presuming to make decisions on behalf of their lay congregation members, refusing to treat them as responsible adults able to make their own decisions about their health. That is exactly the same question which I presume you have in mind when you use the word “clericy” – or did you mean “clerisy” in the sense “learned persons as a class; literati; intelligentsia”? As an adult I want to make my own decisions in such matters, not to be dictated to by bishops and priests, and all the more so when the clerical advice conflicts with the teaching of Jesus and the apostles.

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