covid communion

Would you like microbes with that?

Sunday, 23 January 2022 9:50 pm

Here is a question especially but not only for Anglicans (and I think Lutherans and some others). How likely do you think it is that the tradition of using a common cup for the Lord's Supper / Communion / Eucharist will survive the covid era? And is it a hill you'd die on?


My thoughts are that the practice will likely return to 'normal' in churches with a predominance of older generations. But I wonder if it's days aren't numbered for churches reaching younger generations, and for most churches after another few decades.


Over the years I've read several science based papers on the question of whether a person could or could not contract a virus from sharing a wine chalice. From memory the one I’ve preferred to trust suggested one would need to consume 8 litres of saliva to be at risk. But more broadly I believe the jury is still out and will remain so for a good while.


Meanwhile younger generations in my experience are increasingly proving contagion conscious and resistant to sharing a cup, regardless of the strength of the alcohol. So for at least the past 15-20 years churches with younger age profiles have been moving to the provision of optional alternatives to the common cup, most commonly individual cups “free church" style. (Or there’s intinction which I personally would resist like the … well maybe I won’t use that word right now. But that’s another conversation). This has commonly been on a (ahem!) unofficial (ahem!) basis. Church order and policy are glacial as any synod member knows.


All of these thoughts and developments have been rendered largely academic by the realities of the covid pandemic. The idea that sharing a cup could possibly be even a vaguely sensible practice seems laughable in the face of what epidemiology has taught us since the start of 2020. 


And so I find it hard to imagine that a common cup will look a safe bet to anyone beyond the church community after the dust settles, nor to quite a few within it. Anecdotally I’m hearing quite a few accounts of parishioners telling their clergy they won’t be returning to the common chalice whatever happens.


But perhaps I’m not seeing the whole picture?