On 3 March, the Church of England issued new Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance, comprising an updated Guidance for churches which includes a comprehensive set of Frequently Asked Questions, and resources and information on accessing Christian services digitally for those who cannot get to church.
Advice on Coronavirus (COVID-19) has been afforded a higher priority on the site, featuring on the Church’s Home Page, with any new or changed information posted at www.churchofengland.org/coronavirus. In addition to general advice, the FAQ’s include specific information on What should churches do at this stage? which has been reproduced below, [emboldening in original].
What should churches do at this stage?
- Ensure everyone maintains good hygiene (we should be doing this already as part of normal good practice) at all gatherings, whether services or other occasions. This includes those who prepare or serve food, those handing out books etc or having other direct physical contact with numbers of people, as well as those administering the Eucharist (see below for more guidance):
- Provide hand gel at entrances and ensure there is a good supply of soap or hand gel in cloakrooms and kitchens and any other appropriate areas
- The best way of protecting us from spread is for everyone to use universal good hygiene, – this means everyone, all the time, which will effectively disrupt spread of the virus. So display the public information poster attached, which states:
- Ask anyone with cold or flu symptoms to refrain from taking communion from the Chalice/Cup and receive the wafer/bread/host on the hand only.
- Intinction is NOT recommended, as it is a route for transmission from the individual through handling the wafer/bread/host, and tiny fragments could affect people with allergies to gluten etc.
- The placing of the wafer/host on the tongue by anyone administering Eucharist is NOT recommended as it is a potential source of transmission.
- Ensure good regular cleaning of surfaces people touch regularly, including such things as door handles, light switches etc.
- Ask those attending the Eucharist in particular to sanitise their hands as they come into church, using sanitized gel dispensers (make these available in porches or entrances).
- Ensure ministers of the Eucharist sanitise their hands before and after distributing communion. This can be done by washing hands thoroughly (for 20 seconds at least with soap and water) or using good quality hand gel.
- There is no need as things stand for the Chalice to be withdrawn. However anyone with coughs and colds would be advised to refrain from taking communion from the Chalice/Cup and receive the wafer/bread/host on the hand only.
- There is no need as things stand for the sign of peace to be suspended. However anyone with coughs and colds would be advised to refrain from shaking hands with others, and instead offer the peace verbally.
- When visiting parishioners at home, wash hands before and after giving the sacraments.
- No pastoral visits should be undertaken to people who are self-isolating until isolation ends. However do offer phone support.
- Visits to people in care homes or Hospitals should follow advice from the staff on infection control.
In view of the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) domestically and globally, there is a plethora of qualified and unqualified advice in the media and social media. Two important aspects of such advice are:
- who produced the advice and the information on which it is based; and
- when was that advice issued.
On both of these, the recent advice from the Church of England appears to reflect the precautions that need to be taken at the present time.
[Since this guidance was issued, there have been a number of updates within the Church of England and elsewhere, and these are now listed in a separate post, which itself is frequently updated.]