By Father Casey Shobe
Despite the significant efforts of health workers and countless prayers by people around the world, it is only a matter of time before the latest infectious disease to circle the globe, COVID-19 (“coronavirus”), reaches Dallas. So, in anticipation of its arrival, I want to share some information about the virus and about our practices at Transfiguration.
First of all, what do we know about the virus? Well, the symptoms of the coronavirus are similar to the common cold or influenza. Dr. John Clements, retired Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Tulane University School of Medicine, says this new virus is like a cold that has gone on to the next step, and in most cases will be treated in the same way we treat a cold or the flu. Most who contract the disease will experience mild to moderate symptoms, while the most susceptible to more serious symptoms are those with diminished immune systems or chronic health conditions. Please don’t rely on social media to inform you, and look to public health agencies for accurate and updated information:
The best practices for containing the spread of COVID-19 are the same practices you would follow for preventing a cold or the flu:
- Wash your hands often with soap. Wash for at least 20 seconds, making sure to get between your fingers and beyond your wrist.
- When you can’t wash your hands, use anti-bacterial hand sanitizer regularly (gels are best).
- Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. Use a tissue or the inside of your elbow, not your hands.
- Limit hand-to-hand contact. Handshaking is the proven best way to communicate illness. It may seem silly, but fist-bumping really can help reduce transmission of particularly contagious diseases.
- If you are not feeling well, stay home. Do not go to church or go anywhere else if you are sick. Same if someone in your house is sick. Your exposure to illness can put others at risk.
Second, and no doubt the question that is on your mind as you read this, is it safe to take communion? The simple answer is yes, both bread and wine. Peer reviewed studies and Centers for Disease Control guidance since the 1980s have consistently shown that “no documented transmission of any infectious disease has ever been traced to the use of a common communion cup” and “the risk for infectious disease transmission by a common communion cup is very low, and appropriate safeguards – that is, wiping the interior and exterior rim between communicants, use of care to rotate the cloth during use, and use of a clean cloth for each service – would further diminish this risk.” (American Journal of Infection Control, Vol. 26, No. 5, 1998).
Those are precisely our practices at Transfiguration. Our Eucharistic Ministers are trained to wipe the rim of the chalice between each communicant, present a clean edge of the chalice to each communicant, and the Altar Guild ensures a clean cloth is used for each liturgy. For those who prefer to receive by intinction, we perform this in the recommended way, that is, by having the Eucharistic Minister (EM) dip the bread into the wine, rather than allowing congregants to use their own hands. Our EMs sanitize their hands thoroughly before administering the chalice, so we can be sure the chalice is only handled by those with clean hands. Furthermore, we will have hand sanitizer available in every pew for the foreseeable future, in case you don’t have your own. Before you come up for communion, use it to ensure your hands are clean, and you’ll perform an important step to prevent the spread of infection.
I understand that for some, that all sounds well and good, but you are unconvinced. So it is important to know, if you don’t want to receive the wine, for any reason, you do not have to. According to one of core teachings of the church, tracing back to the Reformation, “Opportunity is always to be given to every communicant to receive the consecrated Bread and Wine separately (The Book of Common Prayer, p 407).” Thus, we will never withhold the cup from Christ’s people. But the Church also teaches that receiving communion in one kind is equal to receiving it in full, which means that, if you receive the bread only, you have fully experienced the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. So, you can simply cross your arms over your chest to indicate to the EM that you do not desire to receive from the cup.
Here I want to solemnly caution us all. Resist the temptation to look upon the common cup as a source of contamination rather than life. It is spiritual food, the precious substance of our Lord, the cup of salvation. To see it as nothing more than a vessel of germs is to threaten real harm to our souls, for we will allow fear to drive us away from the saving presence of Christ. Fear degrades our ability to experience God, which is why, again and again in Scripture, God and God’s messengers say, “Do not be afraid.”
So, remember to pray, my friends. Pray that God’s perfect love will drive out all our fears. Pray for those health care workers who risk their own safety to serve the sick. And pray for those battling this, and all other diseases, that they be strengthened and healed.
Fr. Casey became the fourth rector of Transfiguration in October 2014 after having served churches in Rhode Island and Houston. He is married to Mtr. Melody Shobe, also an Episcopal priest, and they have two daughters, Isabelle and Adelaide. Fr. Casey grew up in Temple, Texas, and holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Texas at Austin. His Master of Divinity was earned at Virginia Theological Seminary and his Doctor of Ministry at the School of Theology at the University of the South (Sewanee). He loves playing golf, road cycling, hiking, brewing beer, and working in his yard. You can contact Father Casey by email.