Thursday, September 10, 2009

Clergy School (4)

After breakfast, we met in the college lecture theatre for Mattins, followed by a good humoured session, punctuated with witty remarks and much laughter, led by Archbishop Barry, smiling and relaxed, reviewing the conference. It was widely agreed to be one of the 'best ever'. In this context 'ever' means the memory of senior clerics with around forty years service behind them. Unlike me, many if not most of those present have spent their entire ministry in the Diocese, so that's a well earned accolade for the Bishop's organising team.

We then discussed the matter of liturgical anti-swine 'flu crisis hygiene measures. It was the first really collective opportunity there had been for clerical discussion since the Archbishop's letter of advice from the Bench of Bishops to Parishes issued at the end of July. I was glad to find that I was among the multitudes unhappy with not offering the chalice to everyone at Communion. It was reported that some Parishes hadn't altered their practice but just advised communicants to opt out if they were anxious about cross infection, or thought they were infected.

I was surprised to discover how strong the concensus was against communion by self-intinction - each recipient dipping their communion wafer in the wine and communicating themselves - on the grounds of hygiene. So often the shared experience is that 'dippers' ' fingernails end up in the wine, and if nails are dirty or coated with varnish, the outcome is far from wholesome for others drinking from the Cup. Even under control with the priest dipping the bread in the wine and giving to the communicant, risk of accidental contamination remains. A ban on the practice was regarded unanimously with favour.

At St John's we followed the Bishops' advice as if obligatory, although it wasn't, as our regular group of worshippers is always supplemented by visitors who may not understand the concern, or may not even know that they are infected. My thinking at the outset was, better to err on the side of caution, even if it means doing something I'm unhappy with. However, I've found intinction as a regular method of communion difficult to practice, and am now inclined to think it would be better to offer the chalice advising communicants that it's optional under the circumstances and let them decide for themselves, .

I must discuss this with the church wardens as soon as I can.

The rate of swine 'flu infections is dropping rapidly now, although there's not yet been a declaration of an end to the emergency. Infection rates may may rise again this winter. Rates have been lower in Wales than in other places, so is all this caution any longer necessary where we are? Discussion was wide ranging and inconclusive, yet, it was considerate and pragmatic in best Anglican tradition. Contemporary pastors take seriously the real world they inhabit.

I doubt if there will be another episcopal edict on this subject for a while. Discretion and local consultation will be the means by which this matter is dealt with, until the time comes for fresh advice from the top. Next time I hope the Archbishops of Canterbury and York will consult before issuing a public statement, so that their counterparts in the Celtic fringe churches are not caught on the hop.

I suppose it was inevitable this issue should arise at such a gathering of clerics. What struck me was how considerate the discussion was, how reluctant all were to impose a 'one size fits all' solution to a pastoral problem, while being keen to do the right thing by people served. To me, this is the real evidence of what was being called 'Anglican DNA', the core of our identity as a 'church for others'.

Our clergy school ended with a Eucharist in St Giles' Parish Church, at which Archbishop Barry presided and preached and everyone sang heartily. After lunch, the coach delivered us back home to Cardiff. Archbishop Barry was with us. I didn't notice him get on the bus as I was dozing at the time. This made me wonder if he'd been on there coming up to Oxford and I hadn't noticed.

It's great to have a spiritual leader who is so quietly at home among his co-workers.

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