Swine flu and the chalice: infections are down, so why not end the ban?

12 August 2009


From the Revd John Longuet-Higgins
Sir, — No one seems to have considered the long view over communion and swine flu. The reformed theology of the eucharist in two kinds — the cause of much suffering by Anglicans 500 years ago, and for which our present liturgy has been written — has been overridden by our bishops on the poor advice of a government seeking to publicise their new swine-flu helpline.

Now that the outbreak has clearly passed its summer peak in England, and the flu is clearly of a less aggressive variety than in previous years, please could the bishops rescind the advice to parishes not to share the cup. Otherwise we shall be doing this right the way through to next March, and every future winter, at a huge cost to pastoral care of our parishioners and the credibility of our bishops and their clergy.

Surely only when the number of flu outbreaks are abnormally high (which this outbreak is not), and the flu of a severe type (which this outbreak is not yet), do these precautions make any rational sense.
The Vicarage
Orchard Mead, Kemps Lane
Painswick GL6 6YD

From Ms Jean Towler
Sir, — No, it should not be left to the celebrant to decide whether or not to administer in one kind only (Letters, 7 August). As argued earlier, that puts the decision into the wrong hands. It is the whole people of God that celebrates the eucharist, and the priest should not exercise authority in that way.

Another correspondent suggests that the Church could be open to the charge of arrogance if she ignores expert opinion. There are two points to be made here. First, “experts” do not speak with one voice, so we could all find an opinion to support our own position.

Second, “expert advice” seems to have contributed to some grave injustices in our courts in recent years. We should be wary of allowing it to dictate our behaviour at the heart of Christian worship. Better by far to obey our Lord’s command to eat and drink and to trust that he will do us good and not harm as we share his life in the holy sacrament.
18 Riverside Park
DE14 1RJ


From the Revd Peter Sellick
Sir, — Jesus heals — often through the work of dedicated doctors, nurses, and medical practitioners. Sandwell has one of the highest rates of swine flu in the country. The churches have been asked to help out our brothers and sisters in the NHS by doing what we can to slow down the rate of transmission of the virus by practising good hygiene etc. I believe we are thereby doing God’s work in this small temporary sacrifice in our practices.

Many doctors and nurses firmly believe they have been called by God to their work. Churches should celebrate their vocation and duty, and not moan about our inconvenience.
St Mary Magdalene
7 Hopkins Drive
West Bromwich B71 3RR

From Mr Malcolm Bowman
Sir, — I have a problem that your readers may be able to solve. While I am in my “home” church, all is well, but when away I decline the bread as I am a coeliac, and take the cup only. What am I to do? The idea of a “spiritual communion” is a non-starter as a sacrament. There is one consolation — I am spared the hurly-burly of the Peace.
“St Mary’s”
Hale Road
Hale, Fordingbridge
Hampshire SP6 2NW

From Mr Francis Loftus
Sir, — I do not wish to add too much to the controversy that has been created over the recent guidance from the archbishops on swine flu, but at our church, St Mary’s, Hemingbrough (North Yorkshire), we are worried that the church is caught in hysteria.

When I told them that a training course that I was to be involved in, planned for October, had been postponed because of the risk of swine flu, the server just said: “Whenever two or three are gathered together — cancel it.”
19 Green Lane, North Duffield
Selby YO8 5RR

From the Revd Dr David Wheeler
Sir, — It has seemed to me, for a long time, that we lack an understanding, a theology, of the importance of risk.

We see that children are impoverished if their play is always safe; that hurt is actually essential if we are to become adult.

In trying to avoid risk, are we not likely to expose ourselves to greater risk (either individually, or as the human species) in years to come? Is that the price God asks of us if we try and avoid risk-taking?

Of course, it is easy to accept risk oneself; far harder to ask others to do so. I might be horrified at the thought of taking Tamiflu for a mild illness myself; but for others?


I simply want to say that we need to develop a greater understanding of riskiness, based on our understanding of God, and that our response to the current pandemic flu, where in some places we are being asked to refrain even from shaking hands with others, does not appear to take into account any importance of taking risks in living, at all.

I perhaps could add that my previous career involved assessing aircraft safety. The safest aircraft is one that never leaves the ground. Unfortunately, it’s probably as of much use as a non-risk-taking Christian.
The Vicarage, Vicarage Road
Irlam, Manchester M44 6WA

From Miss N. Margaret Royce
Sir, — I write as an in-house volun­teer at my local hospice, and as a patient at my doctor’s surgery and at the local hospital. At each of these locations there is an antibacterial gel wash at the entrance, for every per­son to use before moving on into contacts there.

I feel that a similar gel located at each entrance to our churches would be a much more effective way of stopping the spread of swine flu than withholding the chalice from faithful communicants.
99a Tankerville Drive
Essex SS9 3DB

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