COVID-19 and Pastoral Visitation

COVID-19 and Pastoral Visitation

Pastoral visitation is a significant aspect of our ministry and highly valued by many in our churches, especially during times of illness and death. Not only are people supported and cared for through this means, they are also strengthened through the gospel and directed to Christ.

Having said that, the COVID-19 pandemic presents a number of problems.

  1. More of our people may fall ill or die as a result of the pandemic.
  2. The government is discouraging any non-essential travel or personal contact.
  3. Personal contact with someone who is ill comes with additional risk at this time.
  4. It is socially irresponsible for a minister to be in regular, close contact with significant numbers of people, because of the risk of cross-contamination. If a minister visits 30 people and unknowingly became infected on the 3rd visit, he or she has put 26 other people at risk of infection.

How should we be viewing pastoral visitation in the light of all this?

New provisions for visiting people in their homes:

From Friday, May 1st the government is allowing up to 2 adults are their dependent children will be allowed to visit another household. This means it will be easier for church members as well as staff to support and care for one another through face to face visitation.

You will still need to practice social distancing and good personal hygiene. Please take extra care when visiting vulnerable people which includes the elderly. 
If you are feeling unwell, you should not visit other people at home. Even if you have only mild symptoms like tiredness or a sore throat. 

See government guidelines here.

Even with these new provisions we also encourage you to continue making use of other methods of care and support such as phone calls, emails and letter writing.

The following guidelines are shaped around six possible scenarios.

  1. Visiting someone in self-isolation.
  2. Visiting someone who is ill with a non-COVID-19 illness.
  3. Visiting someone with COVID-19 or the symptoms of COVID-19.
  4. Visiting family members of someone who has tested positive to COVID-19.
  5. Conducting the funeral of a person who has not tested positive to COVID-19.
  6. Conducting the funeral of a person who had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Guidelines

1. Visiting someone in self-isolation

The minister should not physically visit a person in self-isolation. They are to contact the person via the phone or online. Given the Federal Government’s current stance that no more than 2 people may gather indoors or outside unless they are family members, we strongly encourage people to find a non-physical alternative to expressing their care and concern for congregation members, especially the more vulnerable. 

2. Visiting someone who is ill with a non-COVID-19 illness

We encourage ministers to consider alternative methods for caring for those who are ill within their church community. This may include regular phone calls, writing cards, being in contact with the family. It is important the person is aware of our care and concern or them, even though we cannot visit them. As stated above the Federal Government’s current stance is for indoor and outdoor gatherings to be limited to no more than 2 persons. Once again we strongly encourage people to find a non-physical alternative to reduce the possibility of infection. People may have the Coronavirus yet be pre-symptomatic. 

3. Visiting someone with either COVID-19 or the symptoms of COVID-19

This should certainly be avoided if the person is at home. Non-physical means of contact should be used instead as outlined above. If the person is in hospital, and permission has been granted, a visit is only to be done with adequate Personal Protective Equipment and the supervision of hospital staff. However, given current hospital resources, this may be an unwarranted imposition, so is strongly discouraged. Alternative means of contact are to be preferred in most cases. Once again, our care for the person will take place through the family. The family may or may not be church members. This will be a time of great distress for the family. It will also be difficult, as care for them will probably need to be done remotely. You may well need to help the family and guide them through this uncertain and stressful situation.

4. Visiting family members of someone who has tested positive to COVID-19 

The nature of the family’s contact with the person who has tested positive needs to be taken into consideration. If they require self-isolation, the minister should not visit them physically but contact them via other means. Once again, this will add a layer of complexity as we bring the comfort of Christ to people at this uncertain time. Please take extra time to consider the situation, whether they are believers or unbelievers, what is the best method of communication, and how often to be in contact. 

5. Conducting the funeral of a person who has not tested positive to COVID-19

Current Federal Government guidelines restrict the total number attending a funeral to no more than 10. Assuming proper hygiene and social distancing is observed, this is permissible. It may be difficult for the family to understand why these restrictions apply when their family member did not die from COVID-19. It is important that as we abide by Government guidelines, we work carefully and sensitively with each family. 

6. Conducting the funeral of a person who had been diagnosed with COVID-19

Current Federal Government guidelines restrict the total number attending a funeral to no more than 10. Assuming proper hygiene and social distancing is observed, this is permissible. For those attending, prior contact with the deceased needs to be taken into consideration. A 14-day period of self-isolation for friends or family members may be necessary before proceeding in some cases.