Communion wine banned as church takes action to protect congregations from coronavirus
PUBLISHED: 10:14 11 March 2020 | UPDATED: 11:25 11 March 2020
Worshippers in Suffolk will not take communion wine during the coronavirus outbreak to keep churches as safe places as possible.
Suffolk's most senior Church of England clergyman made the announcement as he spoke of the need to care for the most vulnerable and pray for all who are caught up in the illness.
The Rt Rev Martin Seeley, Bishop of the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocese, has written to every priest in the diocese with advice on how to manage worship as safely as possible during the risk from coronavirus.
He is also asking people to join him in praying for the sick, the anxious, and the army of dedicated health workers on whom huge pressure is falling.
In church, the service of Holy Communion or The Eucharist will be changed as a temporary measure with parishioners not taking communion wine, symbolic of the blood of Jesus - usually taken via a common cup.
Instead only the bread - symbolic of the body of Christ - will be received.
During communion, people in the congregation will have the bread placed into their hands. The priest will still consecrate the wine too, but only she or he will take a small sip of it, on behalf of the congregation.
The peace, an act in churches where worshippers express their unity with each other by shaking hands and saying 'peace be with you', should be passed without physical contact and some churches are taking the opportunity to learn how to say 'peace be with you' using British sign language.
Bishop Martin said: 'Our first response to the spread of the coronavirus is to care for those who are most vulnerable, and to ensure practices, as best as possible, that will not contribute to infection.
'I realise there is a great deal of uncertainty among us as clergy and among our congregations, so I wanted to give advice for clarity and consistency. In fact the advice I sent out on Monday corresponds to the national advice published today.
'We need in particular to look out for those who do not have good support networks to ensure they receive the help, and care, they need.'
Bishop Martin said there are basic practices all churches should all be adopting, particularly in relation to worship, to inhibit the spread of the disease.
These include being even more attentive to normal hygiene routines of washing hands thoroughly and often with soap and water or hand sanitiser with 60% alcohol.
During communion the priest, and those who assist, should wash with hand sanitiser before and afterwards.
Further guidance includes no laying on of hands at, for example, Confirmation services, or for healing services.
The Church of England's national team for Health and Social Policy is working with the Government's public health officials and both the Bishop's Office and Diocesan office are being updated regularly.
Bishop Martin added: 'Information is changing rapidly so please do check the dedicated website pages for regular updates.
'I want to thank all clergy and worshippers for their cooperation and emphasise that these are precautionary measures that will be removed once the Government gives the all clear.
'Our first priority is to care for those most vulnerable in this crisis, and we continue to pray for all those people caught up in the coronavirus epidemic, for those who are sick, for those who care for them, and for those responsible for planning for our care.'