Archbishop Glenn Davies has issued new recommendations for the Diocese of Sydney on procedures for ministry in the light of the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19).
The advice updates the initial circular to churches in late January. It covers Holy Communion, Children's ministry and food service, as well as general advice for personal interactions at church.
"This will be a testing time for many of our congregations as we seek to balance our fellowship gatherings with sensible safeguards." the Archbishop said. Dr Davies said that Holy Communion arrangements had been of particular concern for some people.
"Statistically, those over 70 are the most vulnerable to serious illness or death from this virus. People in this age group are often members of early morning services where the Lord’s Supper is regularly administered," the Diocese circular said. "We advise that where you hold services that include Communion, it is best for the bread and wine to be served from the front only, rather than passed around on trays or in baskets in the pews. While many churches distribute bread and individual cups of wine in this way, the problem is not merely people touching the bread, but people also touching the trays. We recommend the bread be served to each individual by a designated person (or persons) who has washed their hands with soap and water and used hand sanitiser just prior to distributing the bread. We also recommend that churches do not use the common cup, because the same risks exist from multiple handling by communicants. Instead, individual cups of wine (or juice) should be provided."
While children are less vulnerable to the impact of the virus, Dr Davies said it is important that great care is taken with hygiene in these ministries.
"Please examine all aspects of your children’s ministry program to ensure good practice. Put in place protocols for children who present with colds or coughs. Require stringent handwashing with soap and water, especially if there is any food service or preparation involved in the ministry. Wipe down toys and equipment with antiseptic wipes before and after sessions. Review and, if necessary, suspend communal morning teas where children are likely to touch food, or serve each child individually with tongs. Please consider how to minimise touching shared surfaces. This will include small things like not using a common pen for parents to sign children into the program, but allowing a leader to ‘check-in’ children instead. This advice also extends to mid-week ministries such as playgroups."
The Archbishop said care needed to be taken in food distribution because morning teas, suppers and dinners were key times of fellowship in church life. "Once again we encourage wise execution of serving food. This may include replacing open packets of biscuits with individually wrapped biscuits, suspending communal dinners, not allowing food on open trays or plates. In essence, it is not wise to allow opportunity for people to touch or breathe on food that will then be consumed by others. Please note this advice also extends to mid-week groups, such as Bible studies and ESL groups that might gather on church premises." Dr Davies said.
The email, to rectors and churchwardens, also encourages congregations to refrain from handshakes and other contact like kissing on the cheek. "Overall, we encourage people to exercise common sense and general good hygiene as they gather together while being cautious with any contact," it said.
"At this stage, the Government is not recommending limitations on public gatherings that would prevent congregations from meeting. We are continuing to monitor this situation closely, and will provide further advice as appropriate." Dr Davies said. He advised that given the circumstances, where the worldwide impact of the virus changes daily, further precautions may be needed as the circumstances change.
"We recognise that this advice may seem too prescriptive," Dr Davies said. "Yet we believe that as Christians we have a duty of care to everyone in our midst, especially the household of faith."
"We should also be in fervent prayer that the effects of this virus might be restrained. Please continue to pray about this situation publicly. Pray for those who are ill, wisdom for government and health authorities, that God would be gracious to us and limit the number who fall ill. May God be merciful to our world that the virus may be contained and a vaccine quickly developed."
Feature photo: Prachatai