Monday, 27 July 2009

The church and swine flu

I can't help feeling that the church has capitulated to the no-risk health and safety brigade in its recommendation to suspend the sharing of the chalice at communion. Although we followed the advice of the archbishops yesterday I felt I was doing so out of obedience rather than conviction. The thing is that it's all to do with risk rather than evidence. What actually is the risk of sharing the chalice I wonder? Is there any evidence that during the outbreak of Hong Kong flu in 1969 any church members contracted the virus as a result of taking communion? For 22 years, since I was ordained, I have been helping to consume the wine left over after communion and have never been ill as a result.

It would be difficult to ignore the recommendation of the archbishops, but I really wonder if it is not an over-reaction. The problem with eliminating risk is that it becomes the opposite of faith. Not that we want to play with people's health, but where is faith if there is no risk? What about the risk the disciple Peter took when he got out of the boat to walk towards Jesus on the water? That was faith. Or the risks that the apostle Paul took continually to take the Good News round Asia Minor and Greece? That was faith. Can you imagine what would happen today? Peter would have to be issued with a life-jacket in case he sank, and Paul would have had to fill in a risk assessment form before taking his associates with him on his journeys.

I suppose there is a difference in taking a risk myself, and putting others in the place of risk, but that brings me back to my first point: what is the evidence for swine flu being transmitted by a common chalice? If there is no evidence, then it seems to me there is also no, or very little, risk. And furthermore, this type of flu is mostly very mild anyway.

At the risk of sounding like Jeremy Clarkson, or The Daily Mail, I feel this is just another example of the over-regulation that threatens the spirit of adventure and invention that is part of the human character.

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