The Rector writes…

1. The Diocese has issued guidance to parishes in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic in China, which has spread to many other parts of the world. The guidance is based on the recommendations of the Chief Medical Officer. Here are the main points, which I have ‘customised’ for our own Benefice:

All those with sneezes should trap these in a tissue or handkerchief which is not then placed on a seat or pew.

Those suffering from coughs, colds or sneezing should refrain from handshaking at the Peace, and at the church door

It follows that, if you offer a hand at the Peace, and are met with a shake of a head, you should not be offended.

In the Abbey, clergy administering the wafers already use a hand-sanitiser after the Peace. This practice must be extended to all our churches.

The clergy are concerned that, if shaking hands at the door at the beginning or the end of the service, they might unwittingly transfer the virus from one person to another. I think for the moment I will avoid handshaking as much as possible. Again, please don’t be offended.

There is no suggestion at present that the use of the Common Cup at the Eucharist should be suspended. However, those conscious of having coughs, colds and sneezes are urged to receive Communion in One Kind (ie the bread/wafer) only.

Similarly, no offence will be taken if you in any case prefer to receive in One Kind. The Church has always taught that the full sacramental ‘value’ of the Eucharist is conveyed in Either Kind.

However, Intinction – the dipping of the wafer into the wine – is absolutely not recommended. This is an infection transmission route. Please do not embarrass administrants by trying to intinct.

It is no bad thing to have a small bottle of hand-sanitiser (alcohol-based, minimum 60%) in your pocket or handbag. Use it before and after the Peace, and before and after shaking hands with anyone at other points in the service (eg on arrival at or departure from church). And, of course, throughout the rest of the week!

I think you will all agree that this guidance represents sound common sense. I urge us all to follow it. It is sad, but we need to be sensible to help avoid an epidemic turning into a pandemic.

2. Lent begins this week. A FIAC leaflet about the Lent Project has been distributed in all our churches, and you should be able to find copies at the back of church – or at the Parish Office. Please support this if you can.

Last year’s Palm Crosses have been pouring into the Parish Office to be turned into Ash for Ash Wednesday, 26 February. You can make your Communion at the usual 10.30 am Eucharist in the Lady Chapel, (no ashing) or at the Parish Eucharist at 7.00 pm. Here ashing will be offered, and will be wanted by some and not by others – which is absolutely fine.  

3. As usual, the Gentlemen of the Choir will sing Compline each Monday evening, from 2 March to 30 March. The services begin at 8.00 pm with a hymn and devotional address. I have decided to give all of these myself, on the theme of prayer. There are many different ways to pray, and not every way suits everyone. I hope to explore some of these ways of praying with you, quietly, gently – and briefly!

4. Meanwhile Phil Prout at the Abbey Shop in the Close has a varied stock of Lenten reading. The first is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book 2020, Saying Yes to Life, by Ruth Valerio. Dr Valerio is a theologian and environmentalist who works for Tearfund, a well-known Christian agency working in over 50 of the world’s poorest countries. It is a highly topical book, available at the Shop for £8.95 (all these recommended books are at a discounted price).

Also £8.95 is The Heart of it all by Dr Sam Wells, who succeeded Nicholas Holtam as Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields when the latter became Bishop of Salisbury. It is a highly ambitious (and accessible) book – an introduction to the Bible’s main themes in 100 pages. It concludes with a six-part short study guide, which can be used individually or in groups.

Then there are three titles which are all priced at just £1.50. The first is in a (Roman Catholic) series with which many of you are familiar, ‘Not by bread alone’. It offers what its title promises, Daily Reflections in Lent. Then come two little books from the Church of England with identical titles: #Live Lent: Care for God’s Creation. The difference between them is that one is labelled FOR KIDS – and the other isn’t. Do call in and have a look at them – and perhaps buy the FOR KIDS version for younger children or grandchildren.

5. Finally, don’t miss tomorrow’s Insight Lecture, to be given by The Rt Rev and Rt Hon Lord Chartres, GCVO, PC. Bishop Richard was Bishop of London from 1995 to 2017, and now sits as a life peer in the House of Lords. He was at the heart of the “Establishment” for many years, and few are better placed to explore the tensions inherent in the union of temporal and spiritual authority. The lecture will be held in the Digby Memorial Church Hall, Digby Road, beginning at 7.30 pm. Tickets (£5) are available on the door.