COVID-19 and the liturgy at MtE

In view of the developing concern to minimise the rate of infection of the COVID-19 virus in the community, the health implications of gathering for worship and certain parts of the liturgy must be considered. As yet we have no reason to cease to convene in a common space for worship but such liturgical actions as the passing of the peace and celebration of the Eucharist must be addressed, not least because many of us number among those more vulnerable to the virus.

While no binding direction has been received from civil or church sources, at MtE the following changes will take place from this Sunday March 15 until it becomes clear that we can safely return to normal practice, or further changes are required:

  1. The passing of the peace. This important liturgical act, which typically involves handshakes, hugs and sometimes kissing, will be limited to the spoken exchange between the liturgist/minister and the congregation. That is, the declaration ‘Peace be with you’ will be heard, and the congregation will respond as normal; we will then proceed directly to the recitation of the Creed.
  2. The Eucharist. An obvious way to reduce the risk of infection is continuing the practice of the celebrant using a sanitiser before breaking of the bread. For the distribution, the option we will take up at MtE for the time being is ‘communion under one kind’. This method of communing – not always uncontroversial – has the priest/minister take of the cup and the bread but the congregation taking only the bread communion element, although received with the words ‘the body and blood’ of Christ.

A helpful source of information related to the issues involved here, can be found in two documents from the Lutheran Church in Australia: Guidelines on Hygiene in Worship and Guidelines for the Distribution of Holy Communion.

These changes at MtE are ‘imposed’ by the minister for the time being – after conversation with some members and colleagues – on the understanding that, while they’re not yet formally required, they may soon be so, and there will likely be a number of members whose concerns could affect their fullest possible participation in the meantime. There is now opportunity for reflection on the appropriateness of the changes, and any further changes, over the next few weeks.