No more homemade muffins at morning tea as virus fears spread

No common cup, no kissing, no handshakes

Changes to communion, food service and children’s ministry are among new recommendations for churches in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney in one of the first Australian church responses to the  global outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19).

The chalice or common cup is banned at communion.  Individually served communion is to be distributed from the front rather than on trays passed along the pews, pre-packaged biscuits should replace open packets of snacks at morning tea and supper, while communal dinners should be suspended, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, said in an email to rectors and church wardens (key leaders). But in Adelaide the common cup remains, according to Adelaide’s Archbishop, Geoff Smith. At Hillsong’s Colour Conference communion was unaffected this week because it is served in pre-packed sealed containers.

As fear of contagion rises, the Sydney email also encourages churchgoers to refrain from handshakes and kissing each other on the cheek.

“Overall, we encourage people to exercise common sense and general good hygiene as they gather together while being cautious with any contact.”

The new guidelines have led St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney to change its plans for a communal lunch this Sunday with its link missionary family in Italy, Simon and Jessica Cowell.

“Sorry not to offer fresh baked muffins and cake!” – Kanishka Raffel

In an email to church members, the Dean, Kaniskha Raffel, urged worshippers to bring their own packed lunch rather than food to share and said the lunch venue had been changed from St Andrew’s Cathedral School to the cathedral itself.

“We will be serving pre-packaged individual serves of biscuits for morning and afternoon tea for the time being. Sorry not to offer fresh baked muffins and cake!” Raffel wrote.

“Communion will be served at the Chancel step and not by passing along the trays of bread and wine.”

The Dean also urged anyone who had recently travelled to China, Iran or South Korea to stay at home for the next 14 days and consult a doctor if they develop flu-like symptoms.

“Our fellowship in meeting together is both a joy and a gift from our God. These precautions are intended to keep everyone safe while allowing us to gather to hear God’s word, sing his praise, pray for his world and encourage one another,” he wrote.

Glenn Davies said it was a testing time for many congregations as they sought to balance fellowship gatherings with sensible safeguards.

Holy Communion arrangements had been of particular concern for some people, he noted.

“Statistically, those over 70 are the most vulnerable to serious illness or death from this virus. People in this age group are often members of early morning services where the Lord’s Supper is regularly administered,” he pointed out.

“These precautions are intended to keep everyone safe while allowing us to gather to hear God’s word.” – Kanishka Raffel

Davies explained that the problem with passing around bread and wine on trays or in baskets in the pews, as many churches do, was “not merely people touching the bread, but people also touching the trays. We recommend the bread be served to each individual by a designated person (or persons) who has washed their hands with soap and water and used hand sanitiser just prior to distributing the bread.”

For the same reasons, churches should not use the common cup (also known as the Chalice) but provide individual cups of wine or juice.

“This will include small things like not using a common pen for parents to sign children into the program.” – Glenn Davies

Those involved in youth ministries have also been advised to take great care with hygiene.

“Put in place protocols for children who present with colds or coughs. Require stringent handwashing with soap and water, especially if there is any food service or preparation involved in the ministry. Wipe down toys and equipment with antiseptic wipes before and after sessions. Review and, if necessary, suspend communal morning teas where children are likely to touch food, or serve each child individually with tongs. Please consider how to minimise touching shared surfaces. This will include small things like not using a common pen for parents to sign children into the program but allowing a leader to ‘check-in’ children instead. This advice also extends to mid-week ministries such as playgroups.”

While morning teas, suppers and dinners were key times of fellowship in church life, Davies said, restrictions were necessary to protect people.

“In essence, it is not wise to allow opportunity for people to touch or breathe on food that will then be consumed by others. Please note this advice also extends to mid-week groups, such as Bible studies and ESL groups that might gather on church premises.

“We recognise that this advice may seem too prescriptive.” – Glenn Davies

He said that while the government had not recommended limitations on public gatherings, the diocese would continue to monitor the situation closely and would implement further precautions if needed as circumstances change.

“We recognise that this advice may seem too prescriptive,” Dr Davies said. “Yet we believe that as Christians we have a duty of care to everyone in our midst, especially the household of faith.”

By contrast, Anglican Archbishop Geoff Smith in Adelaide has decided against any special precautions at this stage – including using the chalice during Communion.

“Wine or fortified wine with a high alcohol content should be used.” – Geoff Smith

In his pastoral letter, Smith said COVD-19 was “not thought to be spread through food & there are currently no agreed upon recommendations regarding limiting social contact for the general population. Consequently, the current arrangements regarding greeting of peace, handling of communion & common cup are appropriate.

“We should also continue our normal hygiene practices concerning communion:

• Those involved in the handling of or distribution of the elements should wash their hands prior to doing so;
• A clean precious metal chalice should be used;
• Wine or fortified wine with a high alcohol content should be used;
• A clean linen purificator should be used and a clean section of the purificator used to wipe the lip of the chalice after each communicant.”

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has also issued strict rules regarding the taking of Holy Communion including the banning of the Chalice.

In a statement, the bishops said Holy Communion should be distributed only in the hand rather than on the tongue, and all people serving Holy Communion “should take particular care to wash their hands before and after distributing”.

They urged Catholics to use caution and “consider their own health, including any potential to infect others with a contagious disease” before attending Mass.

“Holy Water should be temporarily removed from stoops at the doors of churches to reduce the possibility of transmission of the virus,” the statement said. “Holy Water should continue to be available for people to take home.

“When exchanging the Sign of Peace, individuals should avoid shaking hands but say ‘Peace be with you’ and offer a smile, wave, nod or bow.”





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