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.
Lay member of Meadgate Church in the parish of Great Baddow