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Withhold chalice and minimise contact during worship, Archbishops tell clergy

11 March 2020

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THE Archbishops of Canterbury and York have advised members of the clergy to suspend both the administration of the chalice and physical contact during the Peace, in light of the increase of coronavirus cases.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization classed the outbreak as a pandemic. A pandemic is a disease that is spreading in multiple countries around the world at the same time.

By then, 387 people in England had tested positive for Covid-19. The total number of cases in the UK was 456. By Thursday, the number of confirmed cases in the UK had risen to 596: 491 in England, 20 in Northern Ireland, and 25 in Wales. 

So far, more than 27,000 people have been tested. Ten people in the UK have died, all of whom are reported to have had significant underlying health conditions.

The previous advice from Church House left it to the priest’s discretion whether to suspend the administration of the chalice and offer communion in one kind only.

A letter to all clergy from the Archbishops on Tuesday, however, said that national suspension of the administration of the chalice and physical contact was “necessary” given the increased infection rate. This puts the Church of England guidance in line with that issued this week by the Church in Wales and Scottish Episcopal Church.

The Archbishops also expressed concern for people most vulnerable to infection, including elderly and isolated people.

The Government is reported to be considering isolating the 500,000 people in care homes in the UK and other vulnerable groups from the wider population to protect people who have lower immunity who are, therefore, less likely to survive the disease.

This would be considered in the next, “delay”, stage of the Government’s four-phase action plan, which has not yet been escalated past the first “contain” stage. The Government were said to be considering this on Thursday.

Archbishop Welby and Dr Sentamu wrote: “We want to assure you all of our prayers and thoughts as across the country, communities consider what steps they can take to care and support one another. We are certain that plans are being made around the country to care in particular for the elderly, vulnerable and the isolated; it is crucial that we give attention to those most at risk.

“We are all in this together and we all must be alert to the challenges and the demands that we might face. We are seeking national advice regularly and are very grateful to all those who are working with us. Clearly, none of us knows precisely how the current situation will develop so we need to pray and work to be prepared for all reasonable eventualities.”

The need had never been greater for neighbourly “compassion and resilience” towards marginalised people, the letter concludes. “Thank you again for all you are doing up and down the country to encourage one another, to care for one another and to provide resources to enable people to respond appropriately in these uncertain times. May we also pray for all those working in our health service and in leadership roles. We are grateful for their dedication, expertise and hard work.”

The letter was discussed at a meeting of the House of Bishops on Tuesday.

Archbishop Welby is due to host the Lambeth Conference in July. A statement from the organisers acknowledges the impact the virus may have on travel arrangements, but says that it has not been advised to cancel the event. More than 1200 people are due to attend from across the Anglican Communion (673 bishops and 521 spouses).

Similarly, the Christian festival Spring Harvest, which is due to be held over Easter, will not be cancelled unless the Government states otherwise, the organisers have said.

 

Full text of the Archbishops’ letter to members of the clergy:

Dear Colleagues,

Coronavirus COVID-19

We are writing to inform you that we have updated our guidance in relation to suspension of the Common Cup and other practical steps in response to Coronavirus Covid-19. The full guidance is online, but the relevant update is as follows:

It is our view, in light of the continued increase of Covid-19 cases in the United Kingdom, that it is now necessary to suspend the administration of the chalice as well as physical contact during the sharing of the peace, blessing or “laying on of hands”.

We therefore advise that all priests should:

• Offer Communion in one kind only to all communicants i.e. the consecrated bread/wafer/host, with the priest alone taking the wine;

• suspend handshaking or other direct physical contact during the sharing of the peace;

• suspend direct physical contact as part of a blessing or ‘laying on of hands’.

We hope the guidance is clear and self-explanatory.

From today, when we preside at the Eucharist at Lambeth Palace and at Bishopthorpe Palace, we are going to give communion in one kind only (the bread) and will not share the peace nor lay on hands for blessings.

This is an important issue but it is only one of the very many matters that you will be considering at this demanding time.

We want to assure you all of our prayers and thoughts as across the country, communities consider what steps they can take to care and support one another. We are certain that plans are being made around the country to care in particular for the elderly, vulnerable and the isolated; it is crucial that we give attention to those most at risk.

We are all in this together and we all must be alert to the challenges and the demands that we might face. We are seeking national advice regularly and are very grateful to all those who are working with us. Clearly, none of us knows precisely how the current situation will develop so we need to pray and work to be prepared for all reasonable eventualities.

Thank you again for all you are doing up and down the country to encourage one another, to care for one another and to provide resources to enable people to respond appropriately in these uncertain times.

May we also pray for all those working in our health service and in leadership roles. We are grateful for their dedication, expertise and hard work.

As we journey through this season of Lent we are all aware of the challenges that face us day by day. Now we need to continue to work together and to pray for each other, showing compassion and resilience and above all, caring especially for those who are marginalised in our societies. 

Yours in Christ,
 

The Most Revd & Rt Hon Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury
 

The Most Revd & Rt Hon John Sentamu
Archbishop of York

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