13 March 2020
Update regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Public Worship
I am writing with a further update and instructions concerning our activities at St Mary’s in West Malling and St Michael’s in Offham given the current public health concerns.
Firstly in regard to our local communications, what has become very clear is that this is a fast-moving and fluid situation and sending letters is a relatively slow way in which to try and communicate with everyone, even if it does ensure everyone gets the information. Therefore, while I will continue to write if there are major changes in guidance, I would ask you to keep an eye on the church website for updates. If you do not have any Internet access, please phone me so I can add you to a list of people I know I need to communicate with in other ways.
The Church of England has now issued further advice to churches to both replace (in some cases) or supplement all that I shared with you before. The key new information is:
- Do not attend church if you are unwell or asked to self-isolate.
Please phone me if this is the case so that I am aware and together we can make suitable arrangements for your inclusion and pastoral care.
- The administration of the Chalice at Holy Communion is suspended.
Holy Communion will be offered in one kind only (the bread) and the Priest alone is to receive the wine.
- Everyone should stand at the Communion Rail.
Please do not kneel at the rail or touch the rail with your hands.
- Shaking hands, or other direct physical contact is suspended.
During the Peace, simply greet those in your immediate vicinity with a smile and the words “Peace be with you”. Don’t move around the church to greet others.
- Priestly blessings or prayers with the laying on of hands are suspended.
Prayers will be given in such circumstances without physical touch.
- Refreshments are suspended.
There will be no tea and coffee after services until further notice.
- Passing around Collection Plates or Bags is suspended.
There will be a collection plate at the back of church as you enter. Please place your offering in the plate as you come in (or if you don’t already do so, take this as an opportunity to start giving by standing order instead). There is an important side point here in that I would ask that you do make sure you continue to give, as best as you’re able and within your means. Our churches cannot easily withstand a massive drop in giving if people are not in church and therefore are not making any financial contribution.
- Use of the Chasuble is suspended and other robes are to be regularly cleaned.
Because I lack confidence that our historic and somewhat elderly Chasubles and Stoles would survive regular deep cleans, the only other option is not to use them. Clergy will be responsible for regular washing of their own cassock albs, cassocks, surplices, stoles and preaching scarves (as is always the case anyway).
Where it does not contradict what is written here, all of the previous advice I passed on to you still applies. The most key bit of advice remains that the best way of protecting everyone from the spread of a virus is for everyone to use universal good hygiene, – this means everyone, all the time, effectively disrupting the virus.
- Catch it – sneeze into a tissue.
- Bin it – bin the tissue.
- Kill it – wash your hands.
- Do not touch your face unless you’ve washed your hands.
Could church services and other church events be cancelled?
At this time there is no guidance to do that. Parishes have been asked to prepare a contingency plan should government advice change. I am now preparing that plan with our Churchwardens, other Clergy and Lay Ministers and PCC. Everything I said before about the benefits of meeting still applies and it is in times of adversity, that our community strength gives testimony to our faith in Christ, provides encouragement to all, and supports the weak, the vulnerable and the isolated. If the Government does ban public gatherings, the contingency plan will cover what happens next but, amongst other things, I intend to try and use our website to try and provide worship, prayer and a sermon each week for you to engage with from home.
Church of England guidance is now that those who are told to self isolate and/or are unwell, cannot receive pastoral visits. Instructions are for Clergy to do pastoral care over the phone in such circumstances. When I am visiting others who have decided not to attend church as a precaution, other ministers and I will continue to observe all sensible precautions in personal hygiene myself before and after such visits. Of course, if I or other Ministers get unwell, our contingency plan will need to cover that eventuality as well.
It’s obviously vital that we keep a good flow of communication. Keep an eye on the website. I will write when appropriate. If you are one of our older members and decide to stop attending for a while, please let me know you’re doing that so we can support you. If your immune system is compromised for any reason, please let me know. If you become unwell and are told to self isolate, please let me know.
As we do each week, please join me in prayer for all those in authority, for our medical services and those on the front line, and for those who are unwell and their families.
Yours in Christ
Rev David Green