Episcopal Diocese of Washington Suspends Communion Wine, Drains Baptismal Fonts Due to Coronavirus

Episcopal Bishop Mariann Budde at the Washington National Cathedral on Jan. 21, 2017. Photo courtesy of Washington National Cathedral/Danielle E. Thomas

After an Episcopal rector at a Washington church tested positive for coronavirus, the Episcopal Diocese of Washington is instituting a sweeping set of policies designed to help stop the spread of the disease — including suspending the use of wine during Communion.

This week officials announced the Rev. Tim Cole, a rector at Christ Church in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood, had tested positive for the coronavirus that causes the illness known as COVID-19. The cleric was the first confirmed case in the region, and the church’s organist, Tom Smith, has since tested positive for the virus.

The reaction was swift: Cole was quickly hospitalized, Smith is in quarantine, and health officials asked parishioners who attended services recently to self-quarantine due to their potential exposure to the virus.

But church officials expanded safety measures beyond Christ Church on Monday (March 9), when the Rev. Mariann Budde, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, distributed a letter outlining new diocesanwide policies meant to curb the spread of the disease.

The new policies include:

  • Suspending the use of the “common cup” and the distribution of wine during Communion, and using wafers instead of bread.
  • Ensuring worship leaders sanitize their hands before administering the wafers during Communion.
  • Draining all water from baptismal fonts.
  • Refraining from physical contact before, during and after worship, including handshakes and hugs during the “Passing of the Peace.”

In an interview with Religion News Service, Budde explained that she decided to implement the precautions after conversations with churchgoers as well as local health experts and officials at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She said she also looked to policies enacted in the Diocese of Olympia in the state of Washington, where an outbreak of COVID-19 has led to 162 confirmed cases in the region, resulting in at least 23 deaths.

“There seems to be a body of consensus that, even though the common cup is scientifically shown to be a very low risk for transmission of infectious bacteria and virus, the recommendation for now was suspending it out of an abundance of caution,” she said.

Budde said she has been in conversation with someone from the church virtually every hour over the past few days — including Cole, who remained in stable condition over the weekend.

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Source: Religion News Service