As news reports on the COVID-19 virus continue to change, I would like to commend you, the Ministry Personnel and Lay Leaders in our communities of faith who have put into place guidelines to keep people safe and to deter the spread of the virus. Stories have reached our office of people demonstrating hand-washing techniques during Sunday Storytime, finding creative new ways to greet people or pass the peace, putting up hand-washing instructions beside sinks and ensuring people know your guidelines by sending them out in special newsletters to congregants.
In making changes in the way we gather in the coming weeks, we can help contribute to the health of the whole body. Thanks for your understanding of this commitment.
The United Church of Canada’s Emergency Plan asks that all communities of faith have a plan or guidelines in place. If your congregation has not already done so, I would suggest that your leadership put guidelines in place that suit your context. In my email on Saturday, March 7, suggested guidelines were included. Our office has continued to expand on those suggested guidelines with your input and you’ll find those guidelines HERE and below.
While I am currently in Alberta as the Chinook Winds Regional Executive meets today, yesterday I took part in a one-hour telephone meeting of some 128 faith group leaders with the British Columbia Minister of Health Adrian Dix and that province’s Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry.
Their message to faith leaders was: Be cautious and Stay Connected. They saw the valuable roles that communities of faith play in ensuring healthy lives of individuals and in protecting the most vulnerable ones among us. They emphasized the healthy practices already outlined in the guidelines.
These health government representatives are not asking faith groups to cancel worship at this time; they are concerned about social isolation. They did, however, ask us to consider this question when planning events, ‘do we need to hold this event right now?’ Gatherings of more than 250 people are not recommended.
I trust that each Community of Faith will continue to live life and take precautions based on the needs of the wider community. May the peace which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God especially today.
Regional Executive Minister, Chinook Winds and Pacific Mountain Regions
5 Guidelines for Communities of Faith in the Pacific Mountain Regional Council regarding COVID-19 PDF VERSION HERE
1. As public health professionals continue to remind us, the best defense against COVID-19 is to practice good flu season hygiene which includes:
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, especially with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with those who are sick.
- Cough and sneeze into your sleeve and not into your hands.
- Stay home if you are sick to avoid spreading illness to others.
2. In terms of Worship and other church gatherings
Encourage people who are sick or experiencing flu-like symptoms to stay home. Further, BC and Alberta’s Chief Medical Officers requested on March 12 that people returning from any international location including the United States self-quarantine themselves for 14 days.
- Make alcohol-based hand sanitizer available in the worship space and throughout the church building for all to use.
- Find alternate forms of greetings and ways of passing the peace that don’t involve skin-to-skin contact.
- Find alternative methods for the offering than passing the plate from hand to hand.
- Take precautions to reduce the number of people touching communion elements and trays or do not serve communion.
- Use individual communion cups rather than a common cup with grape juice.
- Encourage people who use church buildings to wash their hands and post reminder signs throughout the church.
- Regularly wipe down commonly used areas touched by churchgoers, like door handles, pew tops, and railings, regularly.
- Continue to follow provincial health code regulations regarding food services and washing dishes.
- Buffet-style serving of food is not advised.
3. Pastoral Care
- Pastoral care visitors should take all necessary precautions in personal hygiene before and after pastoral visits in hospitals and homes.
- Remain in contact with those who may be vulnerable or quarantined to ensure that they have their spiritual, social and physical needs attended to. While it may not be possible to visit in person, phone calls and written notes are options as well as others for keeping in contact.
4. Please stay home and get medical help if you are experiencing ALL THREE of the following symptoms of COVID- 19: Fever; Cough; Difficulty breathing. Contact Health Link at 811 to receive direction.
5. Planning Ahead. In the event that health officials ask that public worship services not be held, The United Church of Canada’s emergency plan suggests that communities of faith plan for alternative ways of offering worship i.e. planning prayer services that people can do at home or offering worship online.