When we say that COVID-19 has touched “every aspect” of our lives, we’re not kidding – even the way we take Communion has changed. I’m writing this piece to explain how even one more change will affect our practice going forward, along with its theological significance.
The “common cup,” just as the term implies, is the practice of administering and receiving Communion from a single shared chalice, rather than, say, individual cups used in other denominations. Highly symbolic, and theologically significant, it has also been hotly contested throughout the long history of the Episcopal Church. When COVID-19 struck, no surprise, churches employing the “common cup” went into a tailspin. Historic fears of germ transmission became the center point of Sunday Eucharistic worship: the “commonness” or shared aspect came to be seen as a direct threat to physical health (ignoring spiritual health), and the suspension of half the Eucharist seriously disrupted the flow of the liturgy of Communion.
In the Diocese of Virginia, and consequently, at Creator, the common cup was restricted for a time, and reception in one kind (bread) was the established norm. Unfortunately, while the elimination of the Chalice satisfied viral transmission concerns, it created a crisis of polity and theological confusion by running aground of major Eucharistic theology. As Article 30 of our “39 Articles of Religion” states:
“The Cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the Lay-people: for both the parts of the Lord’s Sacrament, by Christ’s ordinance and commandment, ought to be ministered to all Christian men alike” (BCP 867-876).
This polity draws straight from Christ’s practice in the Gospels and is thus critical to us as a Eucharistic-centered worshiping Body. For some, this restriction created a spiritual vacuum that became untenable, and they left the Church for a different house of worship that did not restrict the cup. In a word, we who stayed were thirsty.
Time enough has passed now that Anglican provinces, dioceses, and parishes have modified their “Communion Methodology” to re-introduce the common cup. Indeed, the reintroduction of the Chalice was undertaken very early on in some Anglican churches with no repercussions. Well over a year ago, the Diocese of Ottawa, Canada reintroduced the Chalice with the following statement. I’m citing a significant portion of their letter because it contains information valuable to us in considering the health and hygiene considerations:
Please be assured this step is only being taken because it is known to be very low risk. What follows is a summary of a paper by Bishop Shane’s public health advisor, Rev. Michael Garner. Michael is the associate incumbent of St. Thomas the Apostle church in Ottawa, but before joining the priesthood, he worked in public health and epidemiology for more than 20 years, including 13 years as an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Public Health Agency of Canada. The full-length paper was written for the national House of Bishops.
People have questioned the hygiene of sharing chalices during communion for more than 100 years, but during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, research showed the risk of transmitting HIV by using a common cup was very low. Since then, research on infection risks at communion has focused on whether viruses or bacteria can be found in the common cup after the service, and so far there is no documented evidence of diseases being spread by sharing the cup. People also worry that during a regular communion service, the chalice will be contaminated by the saliva of the participants. While it’s true a shared cup could transmit infection through saliva, the risk is extremely low, with no documented cases of any disease ever being spread that way. In the case of COVID-19 the risk is even lower because it’s spread by aerosols and droplets: the fact is, the risk of catching COVID is far greater from breathing air exhaled by an infectious person next to you than from sharing a common cup.
The full-length paper is reproduced and available in the Narthex and is linked here:
Based on the review and adoption of this paper, combined with our theology and the 39 Articles, most of the parishes and Diocese in Canada reinstated the Chalice within the same year. Helpful information coming out of the Diocese of New Westminster reads:
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, medical authorities were still uncertain as to how the virus was spread. Very quickly Anglican bishops in Canada decided to limit consumption of the consecrated wine to the presider and only to distribute the consecrated bread to the other communicants. In addition to these restrictions, clergy and congregations were mandated to wear masks, to sanitize their hands frequently and to maintain physical distance.
These measures were reasonable precautions to limit the spread of the virus and to protect the more vulnerable members of our congregations. But we know now that the virus is not transmitted by food and that sharing the common cup poses a minuscule risk, particularly when our traditional practices of administration are employed, e.g., the use of wine, wiping the chalice after each communicant and the sanitizing of the hands of the administrator prior to administering the cup.
In the American Episcopal Church, dioceses have also been returning to the Common Cup. At Eastertide of this year, Bishop Dietsche of the Diocese of New York wrote:
I am happy to authorize, effective immediately, the return to Communion in Both Kinds, and to permit, and encourage, the restoration of the Common Cup in the worship of our churches.
I have long felt that the passing of the communion cup from person to person is one of the most powerful symbols we have in the Christian church of our mutual vulnerability, depth of community, and open self-offering one to another. As a very frequent celebrant at our altars, I have often felt uncomfortable and even lonely when I have drunk from the cup alone. So I have longed for this day, and the full return of our customary and ancient practice of holy communion. May this add to the joy of our Easter celebration and the lifting of our collective heart!
There are so many other powerful witnesses affirming the return of the Common Cup from both a health and spiritual perspective, all affirming confidence, safety, diligence, and faith. It is no wonder that its absence has caused the confusion, sadness, and even division it has in our own Creator family because the common cup is a hugely significant part of our corporate worship and an indispensable symbol of theological reality. According to the Rt. Rev. John Baycroft, former Bishop of Ottawa, the Common Cup is central to our heritage:
“The cup is also important. Jesus took one cup and gave it to all of his disciples to drink. Perhaps it was the cup of Elijah from the Passover ritual as some people say, but it was certainly a single cup. He did not merely pour wine into the disciples’ individual cups and tell them to take a drink. There is a powerful challenge in this one. We are reminded of the agonizing decision that faced Jesus when he was praying before the crucifixion: ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matthew 26:39). …. We are also reminded by the one cup that we cannot drink it alone. We drink from a common cup as a strong symbol of unity and our willingness to accept each other. We share our love and lives as we share the cup. The implications for this for fellowship and support in the local church, for relationships between rich and poor in communities and nations, and for justice between North and South and first world and world countries are enormous. The cup of love and unity is unavoidably a cup of sacrifice.”
In keeping with this great cloud of witnesses, it is a great joy that at long last we will once again offer the Common Cup here at Creator.
Our New Eucharistic Practice
We will be offering the Eucharist in three different ways:
We will fully adopt this new methodology on Sunday, September 11th.
If you have any questions or concerns, please do contact me—I want to help people feel comfortable and fed at our altar in any way I can.
Faithfully in Christ,
Dear Creator Family,
There are so many wonderful happenings around our parish!
Worship: Our regular service schedule returns on Sunday, September 11th with 8:00 am Holy Eucharist Rt II, 9:30-10:15 Christian Education, 10:30 am Holy Eucharist Rt II.
Christian Education: We will finish our last four sessions of Sacred Ground and begin our new program in October. If you have an interest or suggestion, please see Fr. Bill. Also, please consider this your season for spiritual growth and renewal. Our programs are part of our parish ministry, and our ministry is what holds us together and keeps us growing. Look for upcoming announcements for October CE.
Fellowship: So much happening, and plenty of opportunities to participate and help our parish GROW! This Sunday is “Bring a Friend to Church” Sunday!! So, bring a friend to Church! In reality, bringing someone to Church is the most assured way of Church growth; no other method even comes close. We remember what our Lord constantly taught--it’s not about how much we have participated, but how much we are participating in our community that counts!
Service: A healthy parish gives – in treasure, talent, and time. Our “stew weekends,” as they are affectionately called, require the gift of time from many so that too few are not burdened by the effort of this critical fundraiser. There are many jobs, big and small, so don’t think you can’t help, or let “I’ve never done that before” stop you. Katherine Earls is finalizing dates and will have those in print soon. Please mark your calendar for our 2nd and final “Clean Up Day” of the season: November 12. Pretty remarkable we can make up for 2 ½ years in 2 Saturdays, but with your help, that’s looking more possible every day.
Thanks be to God and to the giving people of Creator!
Peace in Christ,
In the Mundane and the Sublime
Greetings Creator Family, from First Landing State Park,
It is now early morning, and I am sitting at our campsite anticipating our trek to the beach this morning and some time by the water. It occurs to me that when we go on vacation what we are really looking for is to be away from everything and everyone and have a change of pace in which we find release from the cares of the day. Sitting here now, I realize a pull in a different direction.
Over the last day, we have ridden our bikes to the beach and spent time in canoes looking for dolphins. Over the last day, I have thanked God and thought of God many times during the day. Who doesn’t, when confronted with the beautiful expanse of sea and sky? And I realize that what I really want is not to be away from all the problems of the day but be closer to the problem solver.
Is it not true that what we want is the overpowering presence of God to be truly overpowering? That we want God to be with us in the mundane and necessary processes of life as powerfully and vibrantly as we want God present with us in the sublime and focused parts of life?
It seems that a vacation, understood in a Christian context, is a time when we seek after God all the more in a focused manner so that we can experience God all the more when our lives become diffused. Is it not that we want God to haunt us in our every waking moment? In fact, does God not already do that? What I mean is, as we live our daily lives, we are pursued by what we normally refer to as our conscience. Our conscience tells us when we are acting in charity or in haste, out of pride or in great humility. Our conscience corrects us in our thinking, or not; our conscience alerts us in our actions.
We credit our conscience as the process of our mind focusing on and reacting to the lessons of our life. We think of it as our unconscious mind reacting and critiquing the thoughts and actions of our daily life. Indeed, the conscience is a real thing, but it is far from the true guide of our life.
God haunts our thoughts and memories not as an uninvited intrusion into our lives, pulling on the threads of the damaged cloth, but rather as the invited savior, caressing and repairing the tapestry of our life.
Vacation, as our daily life amidst the hubbub of our experiences, is a time for us to seek after and embrace the presence of God in our minds and hearts. It is a time to invite the critique and more than that, embrace the instruction and the correction. If we are able to do this, we will move from a student rebelling against the instructor to a son or daughter embracing and thankfully grasping for the loving companionship of our Father.
We are heading for the beach now. I can't wait to hear what comes next.
Faithfully in Christ,
If not me, then who?
Dear Creator Family,
After what seems too short a time, summer is drawing to a close. In less than a month, we will be back to the “school schedule” and preparing for the Fall, Advent, and the first Bishop’s visit in three years, which this year is also the fourth Sunday in Advent (December 19th). It’s good to have things to look forward to, things that draw us together. A new season brings with it a sense of renewed purpose and planning. Before we get there, however, we look around at our thinned congregation and see the changes the past seasons have wrought. The Pandemic has changed us, individually and corporately. Ordinary life changes and transitions seem to have been intensified and accelerated by an “unprecedented” (remember that tag word of 2020?) global event—along with the disruptions and divisions it has ushered in its wake. It took a while at Creator, faithful people, but the divisiveness over Covid-19 and how to “handle it” have taken a toll on our parish family as well.
With our shrinking attendance and the leave-taking of the past two+ years, our parish is suffering financially. That will come as no surprise to a family long used to money considerations and short-handedness. Creator folk are some of the most resourceful, deep-digging, and kind-giving folks I’ve ever known. But you can’t run a parish forever on fundraisers and special instance giving. It really does take consistent, committed giving—which we do have, but no longer to the extent that can sustain operations or ministry at our parish as it has in the past. To that end, the Vestry and Finance committee are having very pointed conversations this summer, deliberating on our financial health, and discussing scenarios that will dramatically change our parish life. I am in touch with the Diocese about what may be next for us. I ask you to join me in praying for God’s guidance and wisdom as we seek a solution.
With our eyes on our financial health, we now know that without a significant increase in our income, Creator will be unable to afford up-keep and maintenance costs and personnel salaries at the same time. The Vestry is looking at every option to address this situation and one of those areas is our individual tithe. Now is the time to take a serious look at our individual contributions as we assess our ability to continue parish ministry into 2023.
First on the calendar before summer ends is an old favorite: “Clean-up Day.” This event is simply a reality of family and parish life. We tend and clean our own houses and so, too, does God’s house need your eyes and effort - now more than ever. There are plenty of jobs, big and small, indoors and out. Please don’t think this event is not for you. Now more than ever we are in the “If not me, then who?” stage of our Parish life, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s always been true, but often we think that ministry, upkeep, participation, leadership, attendance – that our presence is dispensable and that someone else will take care of it. Look around, Creator family—you were never more encouraged, invited, anticipated, or needed than now. Let’s make the “us” in “please join US” mean something.
Please join us Saturday, August 27, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The work schedule for Saturday is completely up to you. You can come to help for as long or as briefly as you are able in whatever job you pluck off the list. In addition, we have generated a list of areas and issues that need to be attended to on the 27th, but you can come any time and work in any area.
Tonight, your Vestry meets to discuss our new situation and to seek a path through our financial and physical condition. Please pray for our leaders as we rely upon God to lead our discussion and our deliberations.
Peace in Christ,
Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground. Psalm 143:10
During a conversation about Bible Study, I was asked, “How is ‘doing’ theology different from Bible Study?”
Sadly, the misconception that theology is misleading or dangerous has caused much division in the church. Perhaps the greatest example of this misunderstanding comes from the life of St. Francis. When Francis began his Order in 1209, he forbade his followers from doing or pursuing “theology.” It is true that the circumstances of his day bore witness to mass corruption in the church perpetrated by the hands of “learned men” and proclaimed ‘theologians’ who had the ‘absolute and only truth.’ These men, mostly priests and Bishops, were abusive and self-ingratiating with little or no pastoral care for the ‘common folk.’ It is because of this witness that Francis made his rule and would never consider becoming a priest.
Abusive people exist everywhere and in every time. The church has always suffered with (what often seems to be a majority) of clerics and theologians who hide behind station and education, wreaking pastoral havoc and retiring in style—wasn’t this exactly what Jesus was facing in the Temple system? This all changed for Francis however, when St. Anthony of Padua joined the Order and preached with biblical clarity and theological insight. Francis began to reexamine his understanding of what “theology” really was.
Webster’s dictionary defines theology as “The science of God or of religion; the science which treats of the existence, character, and attributes of God, his laws and government, the doctrines we are to believe, and the duties we are to practice. . . the science of Christian faith and life.”
The word theology is the combination of two Greek words—“Theos” (θεός)— God — and “logos”(λόγος)— Word. Literally, theology means “God’s Word” or the “Word of God” and is understood to mean the “Study of the Word(s) of God.” Theology is the practice (praxis) of studying who God is and what God has done through the observable world and, primarily, through Holy Scripture. Theology depends on the study of the entire Bible as the revelation of God’s self, informed by guided reflection, and a synthetic understanding of creation. In short, theology is Bible Study.
There was a time when theological studies were accepted and, more than that, required! Formal theological studies were undertaken in every university and school as St. Thomas Aquinas famously wrote, “Theology is the queen of the sciences.” It is hard to believe now, but this belief was held as truth all the way through the 20th century. Theology was a required core study in such institutions as Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Cambridge, and even state universities, such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — the oldest state university in America.
Sadly, the understanding of what theology is has eroded over time and has been relegated to specialized institutions (seminaries). The effect of this specialization effectively re-created the very abuses Jesus and Francis were faced with: an elite “class” of people who claimed exclusive access to truth. It also created the destructive and encouraged practice of sectionalized study where seminary students can study only the “type” of theology that they like and are thereby self-indoctrinated into a closed way of thinking.
Yes, there are many different schools of theology, each one approached Bible Study from a specific perspective in the hopes of learning God’s will and purpose. For instance, Creation Theology looks to the biblical witness to understand the Stewardship of Creation; Gender Theology looks to the biblical witness to understand the interaction of men and women. There are many other specialties in theological studies: to name only a few, Biblical Theology, Exegetical Theology, Historical Theology, and so on. There is an umbrella theology, Systematic Theology under which all the other theologies subsist and are systematized, but sadly the corruption of theological studies like Bible Studies, rejects synthesis for self-service. The human/historic problem creeps back as the person makes a sub-category their primary theology, subjecting all biblical revelation to a single theological perspective. This is not the fault of theology, but of the theologian.
R.C. Sproul, theologian and Pastor of the Presbyterian Church wrote, “It is not a question of whether we are going to engage in theology; it is a question of whether our theology is sound or unsound.” When we read 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God,” we are called to ‘read, mark and learn’ beyond personal hopes or wants, but as the vehicle to truth. If we are to study the Bible in a way that glorifies God, then we must seek to truly understand it the way that God intends. To glorify God, we must be sure that our theology is sound. Without careful study of theology, we can easily misinterpret verses, or take them out of context so that they will say what we want them to say. We can make the Bible say whatever we want in order to justify our behavior, but obviously, that is not sound. Theological study is Bible Study to the glory of God, not to the satisfaction of self.
Jesus said, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me” (John 7:16) and points us to a theological reflection of who the one is that sent him, what that teaching is in context, and how we relate to him (Jesus) and the one who sent him through it—sounds like good Bible Study to me!
Knowledge in Christ,
Reconciliation of a Penitent
All May, Some Should, None Must...
Several weeks ago, after the service, I was asked about a comment in my sermon regarding the forgiveness of sins. In my sermon I referenced the biblical assurance that when we are truly sorry and lament our sins, we are forgiven by God. In our personal practice this takes the form of simple prayer; in the liturgical practice this is the Confession of Sin which takes place after the Prayers of the People. While both private and corporate confession and forgiveness are efficacious and sufficient, it is sadly true that we often don’t feel forgiven after either one. Human nature being what it is, I was asked, “Isn’t there any other way to be forgiven?”
This past week, I had the occurrence to offer the rite of Reconciliation of a Penitent, a form of private Confession affirmed by the church and found on page 447 of our Book of Common Prayer. This rite has its roots in the earliest practices of the church and is prescribed by Jesus and biblical witness. In the Episcopal tradition, Reconciliation of a Penitent (as defined in the Book of Common Prayer) “is the rite in which those who repent of their sins may confess them to God in the presence of a priest, and receive the assurance of pardon and the grace of absolution.” It is often referred to as “private confession.”
Our Anglican understanding of Reconciliation of a Penitent is based on 1John 1:9 - "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness," and on James 5:16 - "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."
As we read these passages, it is obvious that a specific command to confess before a priest is missing. The further instruction which includes the option of Auricular Confession before a Priest comes from John 20:23 in which Jesus is instructing the Apostles, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Further, as the church grew, the Book of Acts 16:31 witness to the Apostles exercising this authority by declaring with utmost certainty the terms on which God would forgive sins. The Apostles declared that those who believed the gospel were forgiven (Acts 16:31) and those who did not obey the Gospel faced judgment (2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17). St Paul goes on with this instruction in 1 Corinthians 5:4-5, “So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” This passage sounds like the opposite of reconciliation, but it is a witness that Paul was applying Jesus’ words to mean that the power to offer forgiveness (or not) was very real.
All these passages form the foundation of our understanding of the rite as it is practiced liturgically, but spiritually we may rest on Isaiah 43:25 - “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” It is God and God alone who forgives sin; not the priest, not the pastor, not the friend. The function of the priest in the Confession of Sin is to acknowledge the act of asking and pronounce the assurance of God’s act of mercy, but the true participation of the Confession is known to the penitent alone.
The value and practice of The Reconciliation of a Penitent comes from the intimate act of voicing for the penitent. For those who have not participated in this rite, it may be hard to understand the power of speaking the pain, suffering, and sorrow aloud. This is no doubt at the root of Jesus' instruction to “confess to one another:” that at times—not because private confession is flawed or ineffective—we NEED to speak in order to hear.
At those times and in those circumstances where repeated personal and corporate confession offers us no relief, Auricular Confession invites us to leave our tombs (our sins and failings) and live the life God calls us to. Spiritual direction is offered, and God’s mercy is assured personally and privately so that we can move beyond our sorrow and once again be one with our Lord and Savior—that we can experience the Easter promise of new life. When people truly embrace and practice Reconciliation of a Penitent, they can be transformed through the promises of Christ and the action they take.
If you would like to explore this Rite at Creator, please call me. If you would like to participate in this Rite somewhere else, I would be happy to help you find a place.
Reconciliation of a Penitent, All May, Some Should, None Must.
Peace in Christ,
Father Bill Burk†