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Swine-flu lesson taken from Africa

29 July 2009

by Bill Bowder

TO PREVENT the spreading of swine flu via the chalice at holy communion, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have advised the use of intinction, a technique developed as part of the African Churches’ response to HIV/AIDS.

The advice, sent to all bishops and pub­lished on the Church of England’s website last week, is based on research findings that HIV/AIDS is not trans­ferred by the use of the common cup, but other infections could be.

The Archbishops recommend that “dur­ing this wave of pandemic flu” the celebrant only should receive in both kinds. A priest who still wishes to offer both kinds is advised to intinct each wafer and place it in the communicant’s hand. “This is a practice widely observed in Anglican churches throughout Africa.”

Congregations should be offered guid­ance about precautions to take in receiving communion and exchanging the Peace, the Archbishops wrote. The use of individual cups was not authorised.

Dr Williams followed his own advice when he celebrated the eucharist on Sunday in Canterbury Cathedral. He was the only person in the mother church of the An­glican Communion to receive com­munion under both kinds, a cathedral spokesman said.

“There was an announcement by the Dean at the start of the service explaining the changes and why. There was no panic in the aisles. Only the celebrant, who was Dr Williams, received in both kinds. The Peace was offered by people nodding at each other. When will these restrictions end? Who knows?”

Wakefield, Norwich, and Oxford dio­ceses were among those that emphasised the need for common sense. A spokes­person for Oxford diocese said: “It’s important to get the balance right between being cautious and causing panic.”

In an Ad Clerum, the Bishop of Wake­field, the Rt Revd Stephen Platten, said that “common sense” should dictate if passing the Peace had become “self-defeating (as the passing of more than the Peace)”.

In Oxford, the Revd Hugh Lee, celeb­rating his final communion service at St Michael at the Northgate before he leaves, borrowed three racks of individual cups from a neighbouring Methodist minister in order that the congregation could continue to communicate in both kinds.

In Sherborne Abbey, Canon Eric Woods said in his sermon on Sunday that he was “hugely grateful” that the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd David Stancliffe, had chosen not to follow the advice of the Archbishops and order his clergy “to deny the faithful the common cup altogether”.

The Rural Dean of Bath, Canon Patrick Whitworth, said that he had no reports of any grumblings. “The guidance has been been willingly received, as a means of pre­vention. People are aware of the diffi­culties, and they are quite accepting of what has been asked of them.”

Manual contact at the Peace was not abandoned in every church last Sunday. But at St Albans Abbey, the worshippers were asked to turn to each other, smile, and exchange the Peace verbally — till further notice.

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