Diocesan & Other News
From Bishop John on 24th March
Dear Sisters and Brothers
By now you will have received the new guidance from the College of Bishops which anticipated the announcements from First Minister and Prime Minister. Inevitably, headline pronouncements require interpretation and I expect the implications to be worked out over the next few days. The principle behind the restrictions on movement is clear, however, and that is that we should not encourage any kind of unnecessary gathering, nor should we be travelling distances. Please respect this. None of us is an exception. If you have concerns you wish to talk through, especially around any vital services that may be delivered from your church or hall, please consult me.
I am so grateful for the way all our congregations have taken these challenging and distressing decisions in their stride. We are acting here out of love and care for one another not out of a desire to run away. Indeed, as I phone around the diocese it is clear that you have been working very hard not only to ensure pastoral contact with congregations (especially the most vulnerable) but also to look outwards and to find ways of serving the wider community. The new ‘lock down’ will further challenge us but I am sure that our resolve to serve God in the world as it is will bear much fruit in the coming weeks.
It was fascinating to see the different versions of Sunday worship offered in virtual form last weekend. Obviously, we must further revise what we might offer this coming Sunday and for the following weeks. May I encourage you not to be too anxious about this nor to aim too high. Some of us are very tech savvy, others are not and there is no need to provide a personal Sunday experience when there are so many offerings on-line. In particular, the Province will be recording a simple Sunday service each week and putting in on the Provincial website. The key thing, it seems to me, is to work at maintaining real human contact with our congregations, and for that, thankfully, we have simple technology easily available to us, namely, the telephone.
I intend to record occasional messages to go on our diocesan website; please pass on the links to your congregations. In particular I shall be putting out a message in lieu of our Chrism Mass and working with the Provost of the Cathedral to offer an Easter message.
Look after one another, keep praying and trust God who, as today’s reading of the Feeding of the Four Thousand reminds us, can bring amazing things from our small offerings
With my love
Latest information on the closure of church buildings March 23rd
Coronavirus – Additional Guidance – 18 March 2020
The College of Bishops is aware that the current situation in relation to Coronavirus raises all sorts of questions about matters of practice and theology. We will endeavour to respond to queries as best we are able in the circumstances and the following further guidance is offered.
Weddings and Funerals
The guidance regarding cessation of public worship gives rise to particular issues in relation to matters such as weddings and funerals. Weddings may already be “in the diary” and couples may wish to know whether or not their wedding can go ahead. In the current climate, it is difficult to see how wedding services can proceed on the conventional basis involving large numbers of people, given the fact that church services generally are suspended at present. There are of course pastoral considerations which need to be taken into account also. It is suggested that clergy discuss options with the couple. One may be to proceed with the wedding on the arranged date but with only the couple and immediate family present at the service, and with all present maintaining suitable distance between one another. An alternative would be to defer the wedding and have a future date when circumstances return to a greater degree of normality.
Similarly, pastoral considerations arise in relation to funerals. Funerals need not take place in church and it would seem that if a funeral is arranged for the graveside, again, it would be not unreasonable for immediate family to be present. Clergy should feel free to discuss matters with their Bishop. It should be noted that many crematoria have the facility to livestream services and to host a recording of services for a period of time after the cremation service.
Churches being Open for Prayer
Clergy may want, and are free, to open their churches for prayer, but should not feel obliged to do so. If people come into the church to pray, as individuals, they should observe adequate social distancing and wash their hands on entry. A sign on the church door to highlight this request might be helpful.
Eucharist and Daily Offices
Clergy are welcome to celebrate the Eucharist in their own churches or conduct the usual Daily Offices by themselves, but such occasions should not become services open to others to attend. We recommended that such Eucharists or Offices take place with doors closed.
Pastoral visits and home communions
Visits should not be made without first checking that it is appropriate and safe to visit someone in their own home. People who are self-isolating or who are vulnerable or in a high-risk category and require pastoral support should not be visited in person but may be supported over the phone or via Skype. In effect this means that home communions to those in such categories should also be suspended. More generally, the Bishops wish to discourage home communions at this time since it may expose clergy to risk of infection from those who are not yet showing symptoms but are nevertheless incubating the disease.
Where a visit is to be made to someone in their home who is currently well, clergy should wash their hands when they arrive and when they leave, either with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or by using a hand sanitiser.
Last rites and end-of-life pastoral visits
It is with great regret that we recommend clergy do not pay personal visits to anyone who is dying and has the coronavirus infection. This is a very difficult situation, but clergy have to look after their own health both for themselves and for their congregations as a whole. In the case of a patient dying in a High Dependency Unit, it may be possible for a priest to join family members behind glass or outside in a waiting room and offer prayer there for the dying person.
If a person is dying and does not have the virus, a pastoral visit can go ahead, provided no-one else that the visitor will come into contact with is either ill or self-isolating.
Vestries should not meet physically but decisions and management could be carried out by phone, email or other non-contact means. Such decisions can be “homologated” at a later stage. Within such constraints, vestries should consider issues of contingency planning and resilience in the coming period. The Church of England template is a useful resource in that regard (but please note that it was prepared at a time before church services were suspended and so should be read in that light). It is available on the following webpage: https://www.
Use of Church Halls
Group activities in church halls should be stopped until further notice. In many cases, churches let their halls to outside users. It is expected that in most cases, such users will make decisions for themselves to discontinue activities for the time being but, if not, it is suggested that discussion be undertaken with any such groups with a view to agreeing that lettings be suspended in the current period.
Visits to care home and nursing homes
Public health guidance is that only essential visits should be made to care homes or nursing homes. This could apply to end-of-life situations, but clergy should assess such requests on a case-by-case basis, taking note of the guidance given for last rites and end-of-life pastoral visits (above).
Operation of diocesan offices (open/closed)
This is a matter for individual dioceses. The General Synod Office has moved to home working for most employees and physical meetings of provincial boards and committees are suspended for the time being.
The Most Rev Mark Strange
Coronavirus Safeguarding Considerations issued by the General Synod Office March 18th
During the current period of uncertainty caused by the Coronavirus concerns, the Scottish Episcopal Church’s Provincial Safeguarding Officers will continue to be available to deal with safeguarding situations as they arise. Contact with the Safeguarding Team should be via e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org or, in the event of urgency, by telephone on 07702 793553. If this phone is not answered immediately, leave a voicemail message and one of the Provincial Officers will get back to you.
From Wednesday 18 March the Safeguarding Team will not be in a position to process PVG applications. Correctly completed PVG application forms received by the Safeguarding Team up to 18 March have been processed and submitted to Volunteer Scotland Disclosure Services. Applicants should receive their certificates in due course. Letters have been issued in respect of PVG disclosure certificates received by the Safeguarding Team up to 18 March. Please do not send any PVG applications to the Safeguarding Team until further notice. Please contact Daphne Audsley DaphneA@scotland.anglican.org if you have questions about PVG.
In the past few days, we have been asked for advice on the subject of Church volunteers wishing to provide support and assistance (e.g. shopping) to vulnerable neighbours who are confined to their homes or wish to isolate themselves because of illness or increased risk. Individuals may be offering their services directly to neighbours. However, where churches wish to provide assistance on an organised basis, it is suggested that churches make contact with their local council community care services to ascertain if they might be able to assist with services already set up for this purpose. If this is something that churches wish to do, the work should be carried out by congregational members who are ideally members of the PVG Scheme or at the very least in a position of trust and known to the Church. We would strongly advise against using people who do not fall into this category. When undertaking such services, members should carry some documentation proving identification and the fact that they are authorised by the local church.
The handling of money – for example if shopping is being undertaken for a vulnerable person – is an area of particular risk and careful consideration should be given to how this is handled. For the protection of both the vulnerable person and the volunteer, a safeguarding risk assessment should be conducted and a robust procedure for recording who is undertaking these duties, how the handling of money is organised and how goods purchased or obtained are handed over. It might be possible, for example, for a financial float to be provided by the congregation to the volunteer who does the shopping, with the congregation later recovering payment from the person from whom the shopping is done. Receipts should be copied and retained. Individuals undertaking such duties on behalf of the church should not be providing money to people they do not know and it would be sensible for those to whom such a service is provided to have been referred by a church member. Church members making personal arrangements with friends and neighbours to provide such support would not be considered to be acting on behalf of the Church.
Volunteers undertaking such a service to vulnerable people may well be in a ‘risk’ category themselves and should not place themselves in situations where they are at risk of either contracting the virus or putting others at risk of contracting it. Above all, it is important to take heed of and follow all the advice issued by the Scottish Government, Health Protection Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church in respect of appropriate precautions to be taken and for updated advice and guidance to considered and followed as it is issued. Direct physical contact should be avoided at all times.
If in doubt, please e-mail or call the Provincial Safeguarding Officers.
To: all Clergy, Lay Readers, Vestry Secretaries and Treasurers Tuesday March 17th
Coronavirus – Cessation of Church Services
The College of Bishops continues to follow closely the developing situation in relation to coronavirus. The rapidly changing picture brings about changes on an almost daily basis. The College continues to hold in its prayers the clergy and laity of the Scottish Episcopal Church and the people of Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole.
The College expresses its thanks to everyone in the Scottish Episcopal Church for all that they are doing to adapt to current circumstances and continue in the provision of care and pastoral support. Clergy and lay readers are encouraged to be in touch with their Diocesan Bishop in connection with any matters of difficulty or concern.At this time, the College offers further guidance as follows. It should also be emphasised that in a rapidly changing situation, the guidance that follows must be regarded as subject to any public health guidance or direction, which must take precedence.
- Advice issued last night by the Scottish Government is to the effect that church services should cease. Consequently, the Bishops ask that all gatherings for worship, including small gatherings such as house groups, should be discontinued until further notice.
- Church buildings can be kept open as a place for people to come and pray. However, if a church is open for private prayer, notices should be clearly displayed asking that visitors wash their hands on entry to the church.
- The province is working on plans to make worship available online. The bishops encourage participation in the broader Eucharistic life of the church in this way and emphasise the such online involvement is a form of participation in the Eucharistic community, even though participants cannot physically partake of the bread or wine.
- Clergy and lay leaders must feel free to self-isolate themselves when that is appropriate either to safeguard their own health or the health of others. Again, however, any member of clergy or lay leader needing to self-isolate is asked to discuss the matter with the diocesan Bishop. Where a decision to self-isolate is taken, the bishops expect congregations to be understanding and supportive. Self-isolation, except in the case of illness, does not mean that ministry and pastoral care must cease. Contact and communication can still be maintained over the telephone, by email or other electronic means.
- The taking of funerals may give rise to specific concerns. It may simply not be possible for family relatives or friends of the deceased’s to be able to attend a funeral service as usual. However, clergy can still take a funeral at the graveside or crematorium, even if those present are limited to clergy and funeral directors. Again, in cases of difficulty, bishops encourage clergy to discuss such matters with them.
- In the light of the public health recommendation that non-essential travel should not be undertaken, it is clearly inappropriate to continue with meetings which would draw people from a wider area – such as regional gatherings. Institutions, licensings etc will need to be dealt with differently from normal, and, again, such matters should be discussed with the diocesan Bishop.
- In some cases, where local income is dependent on regular giving through the weekly collection or giving envelopes, it is possible that congregations might encounter difficulties with cash flow. Churches are encouraged to consider alerting congregations to such potential difficulties and encouraging alternative ways of giving, for example by standing order. In cases where it is thought difficulty might arise, treasurers are encouraged to contact their diocesan office at an early stage to discuss whether any form of support can be made available.
- Consideration should be given to resilience planning in current circumstances. As a bare minimum, churches are asked to ensure that they have clear records for detailing those who hold keys for access to churches and halls and of the names of bank signatories and payroll officers, as well as plans on how to deal with circumstances if such individuals become ill or have to self-isolate.
The Most Rev Mark Strange
Coronavirus (COVID 19) guidance update from College of Bishops 13 March
In the light of the developing situation in relation to the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) has today (13 March 2020) issued updated guidance on how members and clergy should respond to the spread of the virus. This guidance is issued on behalf of the College of Bishops.
The Primus, the Most Rev Mark Strange, says:-
“This is a difficult time for many people, some are fearful for themselves or their relatives, while others want to know how to help stem the spread of the virus. Our guidance is given not just to address medical concerns but also with pastoral concern being uppermost in our hearts and minds, particularly the care of the vulnerable in our congregations and communities. Please pray for all those who are unwell at this time, for the fearful and for the lonely and for those who work in the health service as they do their best to respond to the heavy demands at this time.”
- 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.
- Continue to follow all public health guidance provided by NHS Scotland, in particular the need for good hand hygiene and washing hands upon arrival and departure from church, and take precautions when coughing or sneezing (see below), which are the main cause of infection. The latest public health advice on COVID-19 is available at https://www.nhsinform.scot/coronavirus
- The best way of protecting us from the spread is for everyone to use universal good hygiene, – this means everyone, all the time, which will effectively disrupt the spread of the virus.
- Catch it – sneeze into a tissue.
- Bin it – bin the tissue.
- Kill it – wash your hands.
- Do not touch your face unless you’ve washed your hands.
- Church members should stay at home and not attend church services if they feel unwell and display influenza symptoms such as a cough, breathing difficulty, and fever. Pastoral support to those who believe they could have the virus should not involve personal visits, and can instead be offered by telephone call until such time as a medical test clarifies the person’s condition.
- There is no recommendation at this stage from either the Scottish Government or the Scottish Episcopal Church that church services or other church gatherings should be cancelled. The Scottish Government’s restriction on gatherings of more than 500 people does not apply to places of worship, because church services do not require the presence of emergency services.
- The SEC recognises that in certain circumstances, a local decision may be taken to suspend services, such as in the Shetland Isles where all churches across all denominations are expected to be closed on Sunday 15 March.
- It is recommended that there should be no physical contact on arrival at church or on departure until further notice.
- Those handing out books prayer or hymn books should wash their hands before starting.
- The Peace should not involve direct physical contact but be limited to a nod or a smile and a verbal “and also with you” while members remain in their pew or chair.
- Presiding priests administering communion should wash their hands thoroughly before the service and use hand sanitiser when available during ablutions and before touching any wafers. Sanitiser should also be made available to servers and others assisting with the distribution of communion, to be used as discreetly as possible without interrupting the flow of worship.
- Small altar linens should be fresh for each celebration of communion.
- Church members should remain a respectful distance from the next person on their way to the communion rail, and at the rail, and where possible in pews or other seating.
- The sharing of the Chalice is suspended until further notice, and communion should be offered in one kind i.e. taking the bread only, placed into the hand. Receiving communion in one kind only has always been recognised as full communion. Intinction is not recommended.
- Direct physical contact as part a of a blessing or laying on of hands should be suspended, or the person administering laying on of hands should wash hands before and after laying hands on each person.
- At baptisms, the priest should wash his hands before and after the baptismal act, and before and after making the sign of the cross on the candidate’s forehead. It is preferable for water to be poured on the head using a baptismal shell. If chrism/oil is used, this should be done with a spoon or similar. Baptisms by immersion should not take place.
- The passing round of collection plates should be replaced with an alternative means of taking a collection and anyone handling money or a collection plate should wash hands before and after doing so.
- The use of holy water stoups should be suspended. If you have water in such a stoup the best way to dispose of it is by emptying the water onto the soil or if you have a traditional piscina this should be used.
- Young people’s groups such as Sunday School can continue to take place, provided young people wash their hands on arrival for group sessions and again on departure, hand sanitisers are available if at all possible, and tissues are made available, which should be disposed of in a sealed bag immediately after use, and then hands washed again. Please see ‘Guidance to Educational Settings Version 1.0’ published by Health Protection Scotland on 26 February 2020.
- Pastoral visitors to homes and hospitals should observe all precautions in personal hygiene before and after such visits.
- Catering (teas, coffees etc.) should be suspended where multiple people touch mugs, utensils and foodstuffs. If refreshments can be prepared with minimal hand contact, served by a small number of people, and placed on a table for collection rather than passed hand-to-hand, then catering could continue, and individually wrapped items (e.g. biscuits) should be offered. All crockery should be washed by dishwasher if one is available or washed thoroughly in hot water with detergent.
- Vestments (surplices, cassocks) should be washed on the hottest cycle you can without damaging them. Chasubles etc. which could become contaminated, may not be able to be washed. Instead, they should be securely stored away from people, ideally in a well ventilated and brightly sunlit area, for at least 48 hours before re-use.
- Ensure good regular cleaning of surfaces people touch regularly, including such things as door handles, light switches etc.
Please note that ‘Washing hands’ always refers to washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using a hand-sanitiser with minimum 60% alcohol content.
To avoid confusion within the SEC, it will be helpful if a consistent approach is adopted across the church, by following the above guidelines.
The advice given here does not represent a permanent change in practice and may be updated at any time during what is a fluid situation. The advice will also be reviewed on a weekly basis. Please check the SEC website for updates, which will also be highlighted on social media.
Guidance for SEC board and committee members can be accessed here https://www.scotland.anglican.org/coronavirus-updates/advice-to-members-of-provincial-boards-committees-and-other-bodies/
Guidance to Educational Settings, provided by Health Care Scotland, can be accessed here https://hpspubsrepo.blob.core.windows.net/hps-website/nss/2969/documents/1_covid-19-guidance-to-educational-settings.pdf
Guidance for non-healthcare settings, provided by Health Care Scotland, can be accessed here https://www.hps.scot.nhs.uk/web-resources-container/covid-19-guidance-for-non-healthcare-settings/
The Church of England has produced a template for continuity planning which clergy and vestries may find useful in their planning in order to sustain mission and ministry. It is available at: https://www.churchofengland.org/media/19947
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