Christ – is crucified again?

Behold the Man – if this is Man who here doth hang.

For what is cursed, of human dignity deprived,

And He to whom the heav’ns in adorations rang,

The very Word from whom Creation is derived,

Is treated here as none would treat a worm,

Whose death the power of human sin confirms.

For as we please we have unkindly done with Him,

And as we fail, we our expediencies prefer,

To light and life and love we tune our yet bold hymn,

But true allegiance to a different power incur:

We speak, not act, and hide our faithless ways,

Beneath words misapplied and veiled as praise.

We disobey – and say of it, “We test not God,”

Negate his gift of Life – and yet compassion claim,

Deal out despair, for sake of safety more than flawed,

Condemn the sheep to starve, and them for starving blame,

Beneath the cross deny our true Life’s source,

And turn from Him to blindly death enforce.

O Lord, though expendable we have rendered Thee,

Though from Thy power we turn to worship dread and death,

Reduce Thy saving Gifts to mere validity,

And even that then cast aside to acquiesce

In culture that Thee entertainment makes,

When all most need Thee, bids us Thee forsake.

O Lord, though this in blindness we have done for fear,

As Thou forgivest then, “They know not what they do,”

Though less excuse have we, who ought to know Thee near,

And though we have put Thee to bitter shame anew,

Let not Thy hours of agony and pain,

Thy saving Blood prove poured for us in vain.

Cherry Foster

The Idol ‘Fear’

Upon the UK government making public worship illegal- for the second time.

1600px-Wiggensbach_St_Pankratius_Querschiff_Nord_Drei_Männer_im_Feuerofen source wikipedia commons no copyright
Daniel Chapter Three, St. Pankratius, Wiggensbach. Source: Wikimedia commons; Photo credit: Andreas Praefcke


At the voice of trumpets,

(They the state advise),

The sound of pipe and harp,

(Models they applied),

All shall curse their own God,

All shall now revere,

Bow them down and worship,

Gilded idol ‘FEAR’.

And who will not worship,

At the sound of those,

At whose clamouring music,

Worship be imposed,

To fines’ fiery furnace

Se’enfold heated give,

Lose by tortuous inches,

All the means to live.

What a persecution

From a liberal state,

Who freedom to worship,

Say they highly rate,

But hold to no precept,

In the face of dread,

“You must think what we think,”

Now they say instead.

It’s right to be careful,

For He bade us care

For the life of neighbour,

We their sorrows share.

He the gift of this life,

Gave to us of old,

But o’erthrew death’s kingship,

True life to unfold.

He has borne the furnace,

He has feared to die,

The keys of death and hell,

To His hand comply;

Death’s dread and dire threat

He alone can aid,

Truest love of neighbour,

Seeks Him unafraid.

O where are God’s people,

Where the ‘Three young men’?

Who will answer boldly,

Once, and then again,

“We obey things lawful,

But we will not own,

This, O king, your idol,

We worship God alone.”

Cherry Foster


Simeon_Solomon_-_Shadrach_Meshach_Abednego source wikimedia commons no copyright
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego” by Simeon Solomon. Source: Wikimedia Commons; Photo credit unknown.

The Garden

The shattered cistern empty – pointless – stands,

No gracious life its desert surface strands,

The powers of dark their bitter victory prove.

Grim death has won, has taken its last hold,

Lost is the good the Spirit did unfold,

When o’er the blameless chaos He did move.

The apple flowers scent the evening air,

The moon above the garden still shines fair,

As in the hour of Eden’s fall.

The desolate eve, and peaceless, weary night,

When Man had hidden from God’s very light,

But silent is the voice that did then call.

The branches of the olive grey and stark

As on the quiet eve to waiting ark,

Returned the wand’ring, restless dove.

O peace! They stand now but to us accuse,

Whom His anointed one have cursed and bruised,

Who fought the battle for us in His love.

The hyssop bloody where a corpse has passed,

As in the safety of redemption’s fast,

From dusk to dawn within the door.

Yet here the dead are placed to rest, not rise,

We hide, ‘neath stone, corruption from our eyes,

The wages here of sin we may abhor.

The flowing wellspring in its silence lies,

Rippling, scattering light from the skies,

Moved by a soft and mournful breath.

In bitterest destruction wrought by Men,

The Spirit on the waters moves again,

From chaos bringing life in utter death.

Cherry Foster

NB. I use “Man” and “Men” inclusively to mean “humans, male and female.”  

Reject Universal Lockdown – but Carefully…

Reject lockdown – but make reasonable adjustments for the vulnerable

Animal_Abuse_Battery_Cage_ wikimedia commons photo credit unknown copyright to attribution
Am I the only one who feels like this about lockdown?Source: Wikimedia Commons Photo Credit: unknown

Some people have severe allergies.  Even traces of a food chemical drifting out of a restaurant door can set off a life-threatening reaction*.  Is it considered reasonable to make it illegal to wear perfume in order to protect them?  To open a restaurant?  To sell candles?  To eat sandwiches in public?

No.  Of course not.

But it is reasonable that they should be accommodated with appropriate adjustments.  Reasonable to ask class teachers not to wear perfume at work.  Reasonable to ask other children to remain at a greater distance.  Reasonable to provide home tutors if school is genuinely impossible.

Similarly, it was not reasonable to ask those who are not particularly at risk to suspend all meaningful activities indefinitely for the sake of the vulnerable.  It was particularly not reasonable to ignore, in this decision, those who have health problems of other types.  It’s reasonable to assume that I have about the same chance of dying of COVID-19 as I do of flu – i.e. tiny.  I have a pretty much 100% chance of developing life-threatening depression under lockdown conditions.

(I am aware that there is the complexity of the fact that there are other reasons for promoting lockdown, such as protection of infrastructure, but it isn’t what people have made a thing of.  There are also other reasons for rejecting lockdown, including that it plain isn’t likely to work due to the inevitability of a rebound epidemic – which puts you back where you started plus all the bad effects of lockdown).

On the other hand, it is reasonable to expect reasonable adjustment from those who are not vulnerable towards others who may be.  It’s reasonable to ask people to be careful about social distancing and hand washing (where it is possible and not injuring the person doing it).  It’s reasonable to ask that people are allowed to work from home where possible and viable for them (i.e., they can flourish under those conditions).  I’m unhappy with masks for various reasons (the deaf, the dehumanising zombie effect, the social problems for those who can’t, and doubt about the effectiveness – given that people seem to be much less careful about social distancing when wearing masks). 

Having said, I would add: this does mean being willing to do these things normally for the immuno-compromised, or for people who have autism and need more personal space to function, and so on.  It does seem to me that social distancing is a reasonable adjustment, but it is a reasonable adjustment for everyone who needs it.  If it is reasonable to expect people to socially distance in an epidemic, it is (for example) reasonable to expect people to keep their dogs away from others when asked – rather than entering into a long spiel about how “she won’t hurt you”!  (I have frequently been knocked over by other people’s dogs).  If it’s a reasonable adjustment for COVID-19, it is a reasonable adjustment for any individual with a particular need.  If it isn’t a reasonable adjustment for an individual in particular need, it isn’t reasonable for protecting those vulnerable to COVID-19 (without prejudice towards other arguments for or against lockdown).

We should continue to be careful.  Really.

I have never felt that we were in this together.  I have always felt that my unattractive and invisible problem of depression will never have the same weight in health or social terms as the attractive, visible grief of people who have lost a relative to an infectious illness.  I have at the worst moments (and it is something I would not dream of doing) wanted to infect every person in the country with the illness just to have the disaster over with.  I feel that people have demanded things of me they would never have been prepared to do for me (and yes, this has caused me to do a lot of soul-searching regarding my own selfishnesses as well).  I don’t think there are many medical fields in which someone would have been as crippled by a recognised and treatable health problem as I have been by depression, anxiety, and complex post traumatic stress disorder over the last ten years, and not have been offered access at any point in that to a consultant doctor who is a specialist in the field.  Why should people care about protecting the NHS at enormous cost to their own health and welfare, who have conditions which mean it is never fully there for them anyway?  Who have reason to believe that the health problems lockdown caused will never be treated, despite being treatable?   This doesn’t mean I don’t in fact care, or that I intend to deliberately or spitefully disrupt.  It would be wrong and it wouldn’t help.  But it does mean I feel extremely cynical about, and am very annoyed by, the slogans and platitudes.

I believe people are completely justified in refusing to comply with extreme, ongoing, indefinite restrictions, and I think this is true for anyone, not just those of us who are being severely damaged.  However, it is important to distinguish between the extreme and unreasonable “attacks” on ordinary life that have so far been promoted, and alterations and precautions taken within ordinary life to protect and assist others.  Forbidding people to leave their homes, except for a small number of very specific purposes, is refusal to allow people ordinary life.  It should not be done except very short term with very strong evidence that it will help.  The measures that are taken precisely within ordinary life (we cannot socially distance if we are never permitted to be in the same room as another person, cannot wash our hands after coming in if we never go out) are good, and should be obeyed with care.

Let’s not go too far the other way either.  Let’s reject lockdown, but be careful.  This will help everyone.  Both a respect for people’s need to get on with life and a respect for how others are affected by particular actions are a necessary part of a working society.  Perhaps we can now try to come to some sort of mutual understanding and respect, and genuinely achieve a situation where both those damaged by lockdown and those vulnerable to COVID are in it together.

Cherry Foster


Thy Mistletoe

I am a flea that sucks another's blood,
A mistletoe all planted on the Cross,
A cuckoo chick, in known nurture-fraud
That feedeth on the pelican to its loss.

What myst'ry? That Thou Thyself didst graft
Thy parasites to Thee by Thine own will,
Whom on Thine own hands found the flea repast
And 'neath Thy wings the cuckoo sheltered still.

O Love and paradox most wonderous strange,
To nurture as Thine own to Thine own grief,
But wherefore hast Thine heart now so much changed,
That we are cut from Thee by disbelief?

If in Thy mistletoe Thou tookst such strange delight,
It wilts for want of Thee - O, aid its bitter plight!

Cherry Foster


Note: this has been edited several times - mostly the third line.  I was initially unsatisfied with it, changed it, and didn't realise till reading it later that the change couldn't be spoken with the correct rhythm it looked as if the words had!  I think the rhythm is right now, but whether it can be understood is another matter.  "Pelican" is still slightly off but I suppose the odd anapaest is usually ok in iambic verse... >< Oh well, I suppose this is how learning happens.


Should we then have died hereafter?
Is there then time for words, or for a prayer?
Is it death alone that stills our human laughter?
Or things that are not done impose despair?

Tomorrow and tomorrow come, and Thou dost not,
More pointless creeping life than bitter death,
Where our recorded time is all our lot,
Where to Man and not to Thee we yield our breath.

With flick'ring light and smoking, smoldering wick,
Dust to dust, and ash to ash - evil alone remains?
The quick are dead, those in the grave are quick,
The blood of souls our hands indelible now stains.

O liturgy of shadows - O false part we played,
Expendable before disease and fear Thy Life,
Twas Thee alone, Thee and Thy love and aid,
Conveyed sense to our words, and hope to strife.

Set in the household to play the part of heirs,
We are cast forth - against our will - and Thine?
Extras whose words and tears and prayers,
Signify nothing - we are to hell resigned.

O Thou once born of woman! God and Lord,
Who holdest the keys of Life and death and hell,
Call back Thy exiled friends, by grace restored,
Our King, our pearl, again with us do dwell...

Cherry Foster

N.B. To avoid misinformation I should say that I have no idea how the C of E has reacted to the current change in regulations in the UK, which appear to completely forbid church services for more than six people (except weddings and funerals):  I wrote this previous to being aware that had happened.  My own views on what we should and should not be prepared to do have not significantly changed.

Why doesn’t God heal you?

I should, I think, warn people that this post has a sort of PG (personal guidance :-P) rating.  It’s a bit of an elephant in the room one way and another -despite social insensitivity, it is actually a question I’ve never been asked.  Answering it involves the exploration of questions like how one sees the healings of Jesus in the context of modern ideas of disability (somewhat unconventionally from both sides, I would guess), and of the metaphysical as well as the social nature of disability.  It won’t challenge or upset everyone, but I would recommend people use their judgement as to reading on, because I am writing about things which are raw and controversial and emotional, and the post could be quite upsetting to people in a different place in the various journeys involved from me.

Having said which, it is from both the academic and spiritual point of view, a quite unavoidable question.  It touches on the problem of evil, it touches on  – believing as I do that God is sovereign and could and does heal – the apparent arbitrariness of where he does or not.  And I would guess that most of those of us who do have chronic illness or disability and are or become Christians, do find the illness/disability affects our relationship with God (as most other things do).  In churches that tend to set a much greater value on doing than on being, and which don’t have many disabled ministers (becoming “elderly” is, as far as I can make out, a rather different experience), I suspect that people rarely see into this aspect of that can of worms.  What I’m elucidating here is a spiritual struggle as well as a process of thought, and one which I’m not anywhere near the end of.

Firstly, the pieces of the jigsaw.  I have an unconventional philosophical view on the subject of disability for modern times: though I insist that being blind does not make me less of a person, I am among those who would say that the human body is supposed to be able to see.  It is how we are adapted and created to function. 

I don’t think the mistake is in supposing that loss of sight, or hearing, or the capacity to walk, is a lack: I think the mistake lies in supposing that the fact that it is a lack makes the person with it less valid as a person.  Indeed, the fact that people are not of less worth because of any attribute, as they are equally loved by God, is an important one in Christianity. 

I see my lack of vision as a loss on the metaphysical plane, and I see it as something that is something wrong with my body on the medical plane, but I don’t see these things as rendering me an inferior person who is less morally significant, for I don’t think moral worth is based on capacity or attributes in the way our society generally does.  For example, children with disabilities are aborted on the grounds of those disabilities, including at an age where any other child would have the protection of law.  Try suggesting it’s ok to abort a child because they are black, or set the legal gestational-age-limits for abortion differently according to the colour of a unborn child’s skin, and see what people say!*.  God does not love me less because I have a disability: I can believe my disability is a loss/lack without believing my life is lessened in worth by it. 

I regard my blindness both as a feature of who I am (at the moment), something which should be accepted and accommodated and treated matter-of-factly on a day-to-day basis, and also as something which is a genuine and potentially tragic loss of full human functionality.  I don’t regard the two as mutually contradictory.  They’re to do with different aspects of life.  This is, I suppose, one of the things I’m most uncomfortable with in the way a lot of people advocate for disability: that it has to be one or the other, and cannot be both.  The social model of disability is correct socially, but I don’t think it gives the full picture of the experience and reality in other ways.  I’m not broken and somehow unfit to live, but I do have an affliction.  If functional adjustments lessen the actual effect of that affliction so it doesn’t have much effect on my life, wonderful.  But that doesn’t make it somehow not an affliction. 

This is important, because the way in which disability is understood is a massive part of the way in which the question itself has to be understood.  That is, if disability is a purely social matter, one would have to accept that Jesus shouldn’t have healed the blind and sick and so on, but should have rounded on the crowd and given them a lecture about including them as they were!**  As a Christian, I’m very much in favour of asking questions and exploring the uncomfortable bits of scripture properly, and I wish to avoid crude readings which don’t hold it together as a whole.  However, I do believe that it makes no sense within Christianity to put culture above scripture.  To believe is to believe that it is true.   If my culture really does conflict with the sources of faith, I believe it is my culture that’s wrong and the sources of faith which are right, and that I need to adjust myself from accepting my culture to accepting the sources of faith.

Having said which, if you actually read the accounts in the Gospels, there’s an awful lot of sensitivity shown to the people who ask for healing as they are.  Jesus sees that the paralytic is actually more in need of absolution than of being made able to walk (Luke 5:17-26 and analogs).  He responds to the blind man calling to him, he stops, and he talks to him and asks what he wants (no assumptions… Mark 10:46-32), and he takes the deaf man aside and uses a lot of sight and touch (Mark 31:31-37).  The case of the paralytic in particular can reasonably be viewed as a paradigmatic case of not-assuming-someone’s-visible-disablity-must-be-their-worst-or-only-problem!

Finally, there is the whole Christian paradox of life coming out of death, of a remedy being fashioned from the horror of mortality, of the fact that to come to the Resurrection, we first have to die.  This is significant because greater gifts come out of loss and weakness, than from strength.  Human strength is created by God, human gifts and powers should be used to His glory – if we don’t do that, we aren’t honouring him properly as creator.  We cannot force God’s hand by deliberately failing.  But it tends to be in the failure of human power that God most acts.  And it should follow from that that a real weakness or lack is as honourable a gift to him as any other: it seems to be a matter of bringing what you are given to bring.  God is not being arbitrary in granting healing to one and not another: rather, we are not yet able to fully see what He is aiming at in doing so.

So having drawn together the pieces of the puzzle, in terms of what I think disability is, means, and doesn’t mean, and several relevant bits of theology: what is the answer to the actual question: why does God not heal me?

The answer is: I don’t know; the most I could do at this point is speculate.  What I am sure of, within this framework, is that He has a purpose to it, and His grace keeping me faithful to Him, there will come a point of healing.  It may not look quite as we would expect.  My assumption would be that it will probably come in the life to come not this one, and as we know almost nothing about that, I’d rather no one said crudely at my funeral that, “she can now see”!

People do do that, apparently.  I’d hesitate to say that it is always inappropriate: it would depend on the personal experience of the person being buried.  But in the abstract, it does come across rather as: “this person is better off dead; because they were blind, this life wasn’t really a gift worth having.”  Thank-you so much!  There’s a sort of implication (at least out of context) that the disabled person has been healed and transformed while those who are not disabled won’t need that.  Which is actually theologically problematic in other ways as well.   

The notion of healing in the world to come is one I’m perfectly happy with slightly more metaphorically – one of my favourite lines from hymns is “ye blind behold your Saviour come” – the limitations will be taken away.  I tend to express this of the Resurrection by saying: “the deaf shall see music, the blind shall hear light, the lame shall soar on eagles’ wings.”  This is not rejecting the notion of healing suggested in Isaiah (35:5-6), but is an attempt to put the concept in a way which can be understood in our culture as also accepting the validity of our current life and experience.

Having said this, there is a slight complication, which is that I do sometimes wonder if the ongoing fact of the affliction is His doing or mine: that is, whether it is a result of my lack of faith rather than being His will for me at the moment.  Of course, that is still something one has to commit to His mercy, but it is another real part of my experience of this question.  As is the fact that it is actually incredibly difficult, having accepted a lifelong condition which nothing can be done about, to come to terms with the fact that this is not literally speaking true.  There’s something very different about living with no possibility of a cure, and living with that possibility, but in a context where whether or not it happens sooner rather than later is not really my own problem or business.  It’s different from living with the possibility of a medical cure, which is much more about me personally, and about things that are my business and decision.

Trusting that He has a good purpose is not the same as not being angry.  The Christian tradition does not involve having to be pleased with God for doing things in the way He does!  It is perfectly legitimate – indeed, it seems likely that it is a healthy part of growth in the relationship and coming to a deeper trust for many people – to be angry with God and to express it.  It doesn’t help to say “Thy will be done” if what is really going on in my heart and mind is grief and anger rather than trust.  In trying to acknowledge the reality of that grief and anger, I am opening my heart to be given that trust.  And my journey in learning trust on this point is by no means over and may never really be over.

Finally: one of my friends has a lovely analogy about the disabled in the Life to come, which also reflects on how our attitude to disability in this life should work.  If you have two acorns, one of which is smooth and perfect, and the other of which is lumpy and cracked: have they a different potential?  Can you tell which is which when they have both grown into oak trees?

Cherry Foster


*Yes, I am completely pro-life: that is, I don’t think abortion defined as deliberately killing or deliberately preventing the nurture of the unborn is ever justified.  However, the point I’m trying to make here is that a society that forbids the killing of a non-disabled unborn and 24 weeks gestation, but allows the killing of a disabled unborn because they are disabled up to the day of birth, is treating the life of the disabled unborn as being of less value, and that is prejudice in the classic sense.  Many people have been aborted on the grounds of much lower levels of disability than I have.  Being part of a society that allows that isn’t easy.

**The same would apply to charities raising money for medical help for reversible causes of sight loss in LEDCs – that is, they should focus entirely on social change and not try to offer the means of healing.  I think people should aim to do both.  It isn’t wrong to focus on one or the other, but there could be more care on the part of those charities focusing on healing in respecting the human dignity of those currently living with a disability (advertising often leaves that to be desired), and I don’t think anyone who is seeking social change should try to prevent access to medical help (not that I’m aware of anyone who does).

Respect people who can’t wear masks – and six other social realities regarding lockdown which are driving me crazier…

Anyone else? Then we can “be in solidarity” with each other like we’re supposed to – oops – that’s probably a platitude… >< 😛 🙂

  1. Lack of respect for people who can’t wear masks.  This includes: carping about, “I can do it, I don’t see why you can’t;” putting up notices which say you have to wear masks without adding “unless legally exempt;” saying things about it being proper respect for other people to wear a mask without adding, “except those who can’t;” and not being more careful about social distancing around people who can’t wear masks.
  2. Saying, “must,” when what is meant is “strongly advised,” and saying “advised” when what is meant is “must or you may suffer legal penalties.”  Both are extremely difficult to deal with.  I’ve just spent some time trying to work out whether it is illegal or not to refuse to co-operate with test-and-trace.  It is not clear from either the government website or the NHS.  The point is not whether or not I would refuse to co-operate, it is whether or not I am legally free to do so.  We are entitled to make our own decisions about the right thing to do for our own health and that of those around us, when laws (right or wrong) have not been passed to the contrary.  We are not a medicalocracy (at least, not technically!).  People do not have to follow medical advice.  That freedom is being lost by a lack of clarity of communication, which may or may not be cynical.
  3. Mentioning lives lost to the virus, without also talking about the lives lost to the lockdown.  Particularly when it comes from government bodies like our council.  People with cancer, people with depression, people who didn’t go to A and E when they needed to: should these people and their families not expect to be equally acknowledged?  I am still not sure what I think morally about the civil position (I completely oppose the response of the Church, but that’s a different issue): one could potentially justify the sacrifice of the health and welfare of someone like myself on the grounds of double effect.  This would rely on the sort of restrictions put in place being legitimate in the moral sense – I remain unsure of that.  And the general principles of natural law and community would suggest that justifying restrictions on that level requires appropriate assistance for those who lose out: i.e. the health service being adequate for those of us who lost out too – which it wasn’t.  When I needed a hospital bed, there wasn’t one.  Nor was there the social care that might have slowed down the speed with which I got into that state.  My family at least (quite reasonably) thought they had been forbidden to come and help.  And I was ill because of lockdown.  I probably won’t ever really recover, either – certainly if previous experience is anything to go by.  People may justify this on the grounds that what was done was a legitimate action and the situation would have been worse for more people if different decisions had been made.  But that is different from it being left invisible and unacknowledged that what has been done has resulted in deaths and sickness directly caused by the imposition of the lockdown.
  4. The relentless talk about people having made sacrifices, when in fact they’ve had those sacrifices imposed Thank people for obeying orders and acknowledge that it has been a loss by all means.  But don’t make out that the losses a lot of us have suffered were voluntary.  That is rewriting history.  It is seriously untruthful.
  5. People uttering random platitudes like, “we’re all in this together.”  Some of us haven’t felt that this was the case at all.  I was made seriously ill, and am still suffering horribly, in order to protect others from a disease that I probably wouldn’t know I had if I did catch it.  The services I needed weren’t there for me – and whatever was right, that shouldn’t have happened.  Please acknowledge that some things have gone wrong.  There’s nothing anyone can say that would make what’s happened less bad (though there are plenty of things that make it worse).  It just feels like further denial of our real experience.  If you want to help those of us who’ve lost out, campaign for better mental health services, give money to research into less devastating ways of managing this type of epidemic than putting people under house arrest, sign petitions for access to religious ministry to be regarded in the same way as food or health care, be as generous as possible to workers who’ve lost their jobs, encourage awareness of the fact that the terms of the house arrest were unfair on people unable to work, do much of their own shopping, or assist others because of their health or disability – or go out to exercise (though thankfully I could do the last).  If it is unethical to make it compulsory for over seventies to stay at home, on the grounds of discrimination, then it was unethical to put the house arrest measures in place as they are indirect discrimination against the disabled.  But platitudes are things one can only really utter to oneself.
  6. People saying “have to,” when it isn’t true.  The decision to lock down was made by moral agents acting freely.  They thought it was the best decision.  They did not have to do it.  I realise this must seem like splitting hairs, but it seems to me that it is a distinction that matters.  We diminish our freedom by talking as if we were not free.
  7. It was done/is being done to protect the vulnerable.  Perhaps.  What has actually happened is that one group of vulnerable people have had their needs completely sacrificed to the needs of another groups of vulnerable people.  Those of us in those groups do have reason to be quite upset about that.  Saying this makes it sound as if our vulnerabilities just didn’t count.

Cherry Foster

Refusing the Precious Blood is not about infection control – it’s about rigidity of procedure…

What would we have thought, if at the Last Supper, Peter had drunk from the Cup and refused to allow anyone else to do so?

There are at least three ways of receiving the Precious Blood that don’t involve sharing the Chalice and ought to be less risky – potentially less risky than receiving the Host (though I am not an expert on this).  Those are intinction by the celebrant for each member of his congregation, using separate cups, and using separate spoons (more detail here).

None of these things are inherently irreverent – in particular, I’d contend that none of them is anything like as irreverent as treating His gift as if it was unimportant and refusing to allow people to receive it.  

There’s also the possibility of using fortified wine which is a sufficient percentage alcohol to be indisputably safe (as far as I can make out, no-one’s in any doubt alcohol works on COVID-19), though one would also have to contrive to have no-one except the minister touch the liturgical vessel with their hands (I believe that’s technically more correct anyway).

So why is one of these things not automatically resorted to by all Anglican clergy and churches when people have reason to be concerned about an infection risk?

As far as I can make out: because the capacity of the congregation to receive the Precious Blood – the gift of Christ a few hours before His death and the sign of the New Covenant – matters less than upholding the normal procedure of receiving by sharing chalices.

Locking the laity out of the church buildings and refusing to allow them any access to the Sacraments for months on end is a much greater rejection of normal procedure, than using one of these alternative ways of receiving the Precious Blood.  Yet locking people out was considered legitimate and almost universally done.  Altering the manner of reception to make it safer is not.  The non-ordained can just receive incompletely.  Their suffering, their theological and spiritual integrity, their access to Christ’s gift under the gift of stewardship given to some members of the Church for the sake of the whole, don’t seem to register.

What on earth is going on?  This is so bizarre a set of priorities that it seems to make no sense whatever.

(By the way, the clergy have a tendency to make out that it is the same for them as for the non-ordained, because they don’t receive in both kinds if attending as a member of the congregation, only if they are celebrating,  which is unavoidable – it isn’t possible to celebrate in one kind.  I can see why that might seem to make a difference to them, however, being able to receive the Precious Blood part of the time, is not at all the same as never being able to.  If I was ordained, I would be receiving in both kinds.  That priests sometimes attend in a situation where they don’t is less relevant than the fact that they can and do.  Making out that this situation is the same for clergy and non-ordained is like making out that being without food continuously for months is the same as being without food on alternate days!). 

Moreover, the refusal of both kinds has come in by the back door in the Anglican Church in a different context with reservation, and the denial of the Precious Blood to those who are sick and need to receive in hospital or at home.  While I’m greatly in favour of reservation in itself, I am extremely bothered by the fact this has been allowed to happen. 

Again, the practical problem can be solved, and in this case much of the Anglican Church does do otherwise.  When this is taken together with the casual, “it doesn’t matter ’cause it’s valid to receive in one kind,” that one gets in epidemics (instead of adopting a different method of receiving), it does seem uneasily like a situation where we are moving back towards a situation where receiving in both kinds is simply not something permitted to the laity.  The straws in the wind are going that way, and they are going that way, apparently, at least in part because human procedure surrounding the manner of reception, is being treated as more important than the command that we should receive.

With some exasperation I would point out: in no possible manner does it fulfil the words of institution, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins,” for the celebrating priest to receive and to refuse to allow any of the congregation to do so!  The criticism made by some Eastern theologians that no-one in the West reads the Eucharistic Prayer as a whole – we just pull it to pieces and reduce it to random aspects of human theory, seems much more true than it should be.  

I am aware that I am stretching the word “drink” when I suggest intinction or a spoon.  What I would say as this relates to the question of adjusting the procedure of receiving: would we consider the Apostles at the last supper to have disobeyed Christ if they had dipped their bread into the cup instead of actually drinking from it, or if they had poured a little of it into their own cups, or if they had used their spoon instead of drinking directly?  Or at least, would we consider them to have obeyed Him less, by doing one of those things, than by not partaking of the contents of the cup at all? 

And what would we think, if Peter had drunk of the cup, and then refused to allow anyone else to touch it despite the command “all of you”?

Moreover, we do often stretch the words far enough to use multiple chalices, despite the fact that it is strongly implied that there was only one cup at the Last Supper.  Rigid literalism is not applied to other aspects of this issue, and besides, the more literal one this gets, the more strongly the fact that not being allowed to receive the Precious Blood at all is the greater violation of His words comes across. 

Ultimately, though I would encourage people to take it very seriously, I cannot dispute with an individual’s decision to receive only in one kind: that is between them and Him, and not something I have any right to interfere directly with (though I argue with theological reasons for making that decision which seem to be mistaken).  It is the institutional refusal which I think is so deeply wrong.

Sorting this out promptly, and making sure it never happens again, should be priorities of the Anglican Church, for the sake of obeying our Lord properly, for the sake of the care and nurture of her suffering flock, for the sake of putting an end to the extreme clericalism that it represents, and for the sake of our integrity as a church that professes full lay participation. 

Cherry Foster



O Lord, if the sheep may find a voice toward Thee,

To plead against the shepherds that do not feed Thy flock;

They leave us to scatter lost upon the stony mountains,

Not because they do not desire safety for us,

But because safety is sought in that which cannot save.

We are driven from Thee, the fountain of Living Water,

And made to seek water in shattered cisterns which hold no drink.

We stray lost in the wilderness, and are not fed,

As the COVID wolf haunts the green pastures;

In fear of the wolf that can take life, but cannot bring true death,

We are surrendered – for safety – to the sting of the serpent,

Whose poison there is neither balm nor hope to heal.

O Lord, forgive that we have taken it for granted,

That Thou art death, and the world the secret of life,

Forgive all that is unrighteous in our anger,

Forgive our fears, our despair, our failure of faith.

Forgive, that we may be brought by Thee to repentance;

As of old it was said – if God can find one righteous,

For their sake will I pardon all,

And Thou alone wast found, and in Thee alone,

Can Life be found, and true safety known.

Cherry Foster