COVID-19 Virus update

18 Mar 2020 by Rev John Thornton in: Latest News

Hi Friends,

Our new Pastoral Relations Minister, Rev Cherie Strudwick and I, were part of a NSW-ACT Synod Teleconference this morning facilitated by our General Secretary to have a Synod-wide conversation about where we are at with the COVID-19 health crisis.  With 30+ people involved it was a surprisingly orderly and very positive conversation.

Subsequent to the writing of this post, further advices have been released by the Synod of NSW & ACT - refer to this post:

COVID-19 Assembly and Synod Information

Please bear that in mind when reading what follows.

Flowing from this time I felt to offer you an update on where we are at and offer some thoughts on the way forward.  More will be coming in the next day or so.

Some of you may have heard that even before the government instigated a ban on gatherings of over 100, several congregations had already made the move to close their weekly worship gatherings.  With the latest news, though Port Macquarie is probably our only 100+ congregation, we all need to consider what the best way is going forward for the people under our care.

Please keep in mind that we are generally ministering with people very much in the vulnerable category for this virus. 

Veronica and I attended worship at the Elands / Wingham congregation and were impressed with the clear awareness of most people who attended in regard to no handshakes and trying creative ways of greeting.  Many places hand out newsletters and hymn books.  Please consider having wipes available for people handing these out and make sure that tables are wiped down and books also.  If you need to wear gloves? Please do so.

Friends, this is no longer a drill!  We MUST take this very seriously, from greeting people at the door, to passing the peace and after service chat and farewells.  We need to have hand cleaning stations readily available as people enter and if possible scattered around the worship area.  Those on duty as greeters and those leading services must set the example on the day.

When we pass the peace, as I mentioned in a previous letter:

  • Consider facing the person with a hand or hands pressed together at the heart and a slight bow of the head.  You can still use the ‘Peace be with you; and also with you.’
  • Another alternate is to simply use eye contact with a slight bow of the head without any touch.
  • When I first went to Thailand some years back I was introduced to the Thai Wai.  A bringing together of both hands pointing upwards and a slight bow of the head.  Again this can be a part of the simple greeting: ‘The Lord be with you’ / The peace of the Lord be with you’.  This is generally identified as a ‘Namaste’, an Indian practice. Some see this as being of another faith, but in reality it is simply a greeting or blessing of peace.

While this may not be well received I do want to strongly suggest that the regular after service cup of tea and delicious scones be stopped for the time being.  Try to find a way more deliberately within the service for people to share with the worshipping community.

Some congregations have already made the decision not to share Holy Communion as part of our gathered time and this may well be an option to be considered.  Should we choose to continue gathering for worship and sharing Holy Communion, please consider:

  • NOT using the intinction method at this time.
  • Should you choose to continue with your usual celebration of Communion, please be aware of the need for best practice hygiene in the preparation for Communion as well as the time of distribution.
  • Station a couple of hand sanitizer dispensers so that people can sanitize their hands before they receive the elements (and stewards do so before serving).  This can be clearly supported by the presider overtly using a hand sanitizer prior to the liturgy of Holy Communion and be pastorally announced as a way as to demonstrate care for one another.
  • Give people the option not to share in Communion and make it clear that this is perfectly okay.

I am already aware that people are choosing not attend services at this time.  We need to be very aware of the needs of those in Aged Care places where regular worship services will now have been curtailed.

I am attaching as a temporary fill-in for now some resources from my friends at Canberra Region Presbytery and particularly from the Kippax Uniting Church.  I think they may prove useful to some of you.

Can I encourage people to be proactive from today in Pastoral Care to those who have chosen not to attend worship until this time has passed, and of course for those already unable to attend through age and / or health.

If leaders can begin to delegate responsibilities around other carers amongst their number, we can immediately begin to make a difference:

Just start with one person and make the call, or send a text, or, as last resort, send an email.  The opening question is a really easy one: ‘Hi. How are you doing?’

There is a great deal of uncertainty right now and also a little fear.  Taking away our familiar patterns of support, as necessary as it may be, will only add to the anxiety levels. We need to ensure that and encourage an ongoing sense of connection.

If you are not formally a part of a caring or pastoral team, do it anyway.  Make the call, Get in contact.

Please stay in touch and be kind to one another!

Grace and Peace – John Thornton