One August morning, ten or so years ago, I was on holiday and I went along to the 8.00 am Holy Communion service in the parish church in my home village. Our parish was amalgamated with half a dozen others in the 1970s and the service, which would once have preceded a main service in the middle of the morning, was to be the only service of the day in the parish.
The officiant, a retired bishop whose twin brother had been Bishop of Gloucester and who lived with his brother in a house provided by the Prince of Wales, stood up and said, “Good morning everyone. Because of the swine flu the archbishops have announced that wine at Holy Communion will be received by intinction (this means dipping wafers into the chalice, he didn’t explain what it was, though) and that there should be no sharing of the peace. The old colonels were right after all.”
This seemed to please the congregation of a dozen mostly retired people because two or three shouted, “Hear, hear.” He did not explain why there would be old colonels who would be happy about this, perhaps the congregation were in on a joke about the conduct of the Communion service about which I knew nothing. The retired bishop then began the service, not once giving a page number or explaining anything about what was being done; maybe it was assumed that anyone who might casually wander in would have automatically known all that was necessary.
The arrival of coronavirus has brought a renewal of the restrictions. The Church of England has suggested a withdrawal of the common cup, only the priest being allowed to drink from the chalice. It has proposed that the sharing of the peace through shaking hands should cease and that even touching a person to give them a blessing or offer a prayer should stop for the time being.
The retired bishop has outlived his twin brother and would presumably hold views similar to those he held a decade ago. He would presumably derive satisfaction from being to say that the old colonels would be pleased at the new provisions.
The greatest challenge for him would be to find someone with whom to share his views; most of the dozen souls in the congregation that August morning are dead and their places have not been taken by anyone younger. The church’s fear of the impact of the virus becomes redundant when there is no-one to be infected.