Not many people have read my blog series What Anglicans have not always held about Communion. I can’t say I blame the rest of you – it is heavy going. But if anyone wants to get the general idea I recommend reading just part 5: summary and conclusions.
Anyway, what this means is that not many people have noticed what I discovered and reported in part 4 of the series: that Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, together with his suffragan the Bishop of Tonbridge, have stepped out of line with the Archbishops of the Church of England. Not for the first time, of course, for Nazir-Ali, but this time it is nothing directly to do with GAFCON or the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.
With one exception, all of the dioceses and bishops whose recent swine flu advice I have seen have closely followed the line recommended by the Archbishops:
In the light of this advice, we recommend those presiding at Holy Communion suspend the administration of the chalice during this wave of pandemic flu. For those who still wish to offer in both kinds, we recommend the practice whereby the presiding minister … personally intincts all wafers before placing them in the hands of communicants.
Not all of the dioceses and bishops have suggested the intinction alternative, but all that I have seen, with the one exception, have recommended withholding the Communion cup from the lay people, in contravention of the Thirty-Nine Articles.
This doesn’t imply that all bishops agree with the advice. The blogging Bishop Alan Wilson (not a diocesan bishop) has in fact indicated some severe misgivings, in this comment and this one on this very blog. But they are surely under strong pressure to defer to the Archbishops and to government health advice – even though that health advice is seriously flawed, as is the church’s reaction to other parts of the same advice. I note by the way that in its latest advice on swine flu (which they insist on calling “Influenza ‘A’ (H1N1)”), the Diocese of Oxford, in which Alan Wilson is a bishop, avoids issuing its own advice to “suspend the chalice” but simply reports the Archbishops’ recommendation.
But, as far as I have seen, it is only the Diocese of Rochester which has officially, if subtly, stepped out of line on this matter. The advice which it has issued to all its clergy, in the name of Bishops Nazir-Ali of Rochester and Castle of Tonbridge, closely follows the wording of the Archbishops’ recommendation, but adds to it in a way which gives clear priority to the Archbishops’ alternative of intinction, with communion in one kind downgraded from the main recommendation to “possible” (points of difference from the Archbishops’ advice in italics):
Accordingly we recommend that those presiding at Holy Communion suspend the usual administration of the chalice to others during this wave of pandemic flu. The consequence of this is that it will be possible for communicants to receive in one kind. However, St. Paul reminds us of the importance of the common cup (I Cor.10.16) and so for those who […] wish to offer in both kinds, we recommend the practice whereby the President … personally intincts (dips into the wine) all wafers before placing them in the hands of communicants.
The appeal to the Bible added in Rochester is followed up by an added appeal to the Thirty-Nine Articles:
the Anglican tradition places high spiritual and theological value on sharing in the common cup and, therefore, in Communion in both kinds (Article 30).
The clear implication is that the Rochester bishops, like Bishop Alan Wilson and myself, have strong theological reservations about withdrawing the common cup, based on the Bible and the Thirty-Nine Articles. These two bishops have taken there reservations seriously enough to dissent from passing on the Archbishops’ advice to suspend the Communion cup.
Well done, Bishops Nazir-Ali and Castle! I wish that more bishops and archbishops would have the courage to question the flawed advice from the government, and from their own advisers, to recognise the theological importance of the common cup (which I explained in my series), to stop panicking, and to recommend that (here quoting the Oxford Diocese advice) “As in any crisis, the Church should remain open for business as usual” including in the way that it offers the Communion.