COVID-19 Virus

11 Mar 2020 by Rev John Thornton in: Latest News

Photograph credit: Sarah Noltner (unsplash)


Friends the following advice has been received from the NSW-ACT Synod regarding the present COVID-19 Virus alert. We take seriously our pastoral responsibility of congregations under our care and offer these thoughts.

As you may know the Premier Gladys Berejiklian, announced last Friday that the Health System of NSW is on high alert and is doing all that they can to manage the virus. NSW Minister for Health, Brad Hazzard, announced (05/03/20) that containment of the virus is no longer possible. The same messages are relevant for the ACT.

NSW Health has asked that we do all we can to reduce the risk of spreading disease by taking additional precautionary steps. Our vigilance is critical both at home and in our offices, schools, places of worship, hospitals and in the wider community.

So far enquiries consistently ask for guidance on the following categories:

Passing the Peace

  • Consider facing the person with hands pressed together at the heart and a slight bow of the head. Various translations of this gesture can be “The Divine in me honors the Divine in you”, “the Light in me recognises the Light in you” or “the spirit within me sees the spirit within you”. You can still use the same words ‘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.

Holy Communion

  • For the sake of allaying fear, perhaps consider not using intinction until the virus transmission has been halted thanks to vaccination and herd immunity. Small glasses and pre-torn or cut bread may help some people feel safer. Please ensure those preparing use the appropriate gloves and hygienic food handling procedures.
  • Should you continue with your usual celebration of Communion, station a couple of hand sanitizer dispensers so that people can sanitize their hands before they receive the elements. This could be announced in such a way as to demonstrate care for one another.
  • Some members of the congregation may refrain from Communion. Another option is to use the Communion of the Empty Hands. There are many versions of the origin of the practice – one can be found on pages 3-4 of Take All of Me
  • By standing in solidarity with those who live with real fear, deprivation, war, poverty, famine – we also witness that Jesus Christ is also present. While there is no formal church liturgy, that I know of, a simply service could be crafted from the story above. Should any of you know of a liturgy, please share it or send it to me to share with the Synod.

Pastoral Care

  • A general request for people not to shake hands can be offered as a form of pastoral care for everyone. Having a conversation with the congregation or at Church Council might help prepare the people for ‘what happens if…?’
  • If someone within the congregation gets the virus, letting people know sooner rather than later that the Minister or Pastoral Care team will not visit face to face, but will phone or skype if appropriate, can maintain a sense of community.
  • Additionally, checking with your local hospital, retirement/aged care facilities, setting up this arrangement before it is required, will also ensure less frustration and hurt by someone wanting a visit but unable to see the potential risk.
  • Creating your process and then clearly communicating it to your people will help everyone respond calmly and wisely in the face of unprecedented events.

Morning Tea/Social events

  • While there is no need to cancel all events, seek to limit risk for those who may be vulnerable to the virus. Weigh up what would best serve the congregation and wider community. Should food be shared, extra vigilance should be given to all food preparation and handling. Please ensure hand sanitizer is clearly available at multiple sites.

Closure of Worship

  • This would only happen should the authorities advise. Again, ensuring you have up to date emails addresses and phone numbers can still help people feel connected even if they can’t be physically in the same location. Should a service not go ahead, the liturgy could still be shared in other ways.
  • In all things, please follow the directives of NSW Health and the Department of Health
  • You can also stay up to date on the Synod intranet and home page where there are valuable links from the departments of health.

Keep Calm but don’t soldier on

  • Please take every sensible precaution to care for yourself at this time. Remember to also self-isolate as needed. Read the notices provided by Rev Jane Fry - Employee Update on Coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • As we all try to stay calm amidst the hypervigilance reported in the media, it is important to remember that this will pass. Life will return to its usual pace, with time. If we use common sense and calm, we will better serve our communities.
  • Professor Booy is a specialist at the National Centre for Immunization Research and Surveillance, and Chair of the Immunization Coalition. His brief video is helpful - COVID-19 Transmission.

Please be in touch with any concerns that you may have. In the meantime common sense is a very good way forward.

Grace and Peace – John Thornton