Safe Communion Practices During Flu Season

For those who did not hear Rev. Kate’s announcement in church on Sunday about Communion practices, we can observe to help keep each other healthier, below is a letter with more information.

Dear friends,

The current news stories about COVID-19 are making us all more aware of public health issues. However, we can and should always be participating in good health practices to protect not only ourselves but members of our congregation who may be more susceptible to the flu or viruses of any kind.

Last week our Bishop shared this link from Episcopal Relief & Development which has a lot of useful information. 

After reading this, several folks asked, “so what should I do at Communion?” Thus, I wanted to share some further information and background.

Theologically speaking, in the Episcopal church we share the Common Cup. That’s because it’s our belief that it is a symbol of our unity in Christ. We are one in Christ, we all share in the one bread and one cup. Intincing (or “dipping” the wafer into the cup) is not part of the Episcopal tradition and is counter to our theology of sharing in one cup. In a way, we’re sort of symbolically distancing ourselves emotional and spiritually from our church community when we do that.

Furthermore, intincting also spreads more germs than sipping from the cup. This seems counterintuitive, but it’s true, and the medical research backs it up. After the SARS epidemic in Toronto, the Church of Canada sponsored several medical studies and they proved that intincting causes more transmission of infection than sipping. The reason is not that your fingers might slip into the wine. Many people say, “oh, I’ll just be careful and make sure my fingers don’t get wet,” but that’s not going to help.  The transmission of contagion happens when the wafer is resting in your hand. 

Intincting has actually been banned in many churches, and our bishops here in Massachusetts strongly urge us not to intinct during flu seasons, to protect the elderly and others with compromised immune systems from whatever cold or cough you may have.

It’s very hard for me to say there’s a wrong way to take Communion, because the truth is, there simply is no wrong way to come to God. But intincting is not our theology, it’s not good symbolism of what we believe about Communion, and it’s not a good practice from a health perspective either.

If you prefer not to sip during flu season, that is a totally fine choice. The Sacrament is complete in one kind; you gain the full spiritual benefit of the Sacrament by only receiving just the bread or just the wine.  If you prefer not to receive the wine, just cross your arms across your chest when the chalice bearer comes to you. You can also touch the cup and say “Amen” without drinking from it, to receive spiritually

Likewise at the Peace, it is perfectly acceptable to do an elbow bump or wave instead of shaking hands. It can also be fun!

In conclusion, here is a quote from Diocese of Toronto’s study that they commissioned after the SARS epidemic:

“A combination of current literature and expert medical advice concluded:

  1. sipping from the common cup represents minimal risk of transmission of contagion;
  2. sharing a handshake in the exchange of the peace presents a minimal risk of transmission of contagion.

    Both of these activities fall within the parameters of the normal risks of daily living.
  3. The practice of intinction can be perceived as a higher risk activity.

Eliminating all risk is impossible. Our witness of faith is one that embraces risk… Our faith in God allows us to move forward with the understanding that while we as a community cannot escape risk, we possess those virtues required to face it: wisdom, compassion, generosity, courage, love, and faith.”