Coronavirus Response

By Revd Vanessa Conant, Rector, St Mary’s & the Parish of Walthamstow

UPDATE (Tuesday 17th March 2020, 5pm)

This afternoon (17/3), St Mary’s suspended all public gatherings in the building, including regular Sunday worship, in accordance with Church of England guidance. For more information on this development, including how we plan to stay connected as a church, please see our latest blog post.

UPDATE (Tuesday 17th March 2020, 12pm)

We are cancelling all weekday events in the church building, effective immediately (17th March), in keeping with government advice. We will be responsive, and will update our website and social media channels when this changes. We are waiting for the Church of England to make a decision on Sunday worship, and expect to hear from them later today. The below health and safety guidelines still apply to any gathering in the building:

This is an update regarding Coronavirus and our response at St Mary’s and across the Parish of Walthamstow. Our aim is to reassure parishioners that we are taking every step to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone.

We are continuing to take advice from the Church of England the Medical Advisory bodies, responding as this changes. Regarding any gathering in the church building, we ask if you feel unwell in any way – or even if you have a cold – please stay home, as this will help us care for others.

As members of the church, we are responding quickly and decisively to this rapidly-changing situation, and are committed to following the best available advice, particularly around regular hand-washing and hygiene, always erring on the side of caution and, again, encouraging those who feel unwell in any way to stay home as we strive to care for each other during this time. Please pray with us as we seek to serve and love our community, and one another, with wisdom, kindness and care.

Specific guidance related to Church gatherings in the building:

The updated guidance from the Church of England is as follows:

  • Offer Communion in one kind only to all communicants (i.e., the consecrated bread/wafer/host, with the priest alone taking the wine);
  • suspend handshaking or other direct physical contact during the sharing of the peace; 
  • suspend direct physical contact as part of a blessing or ‘laying on of hands’ or prayer ministry

In addition, whenever we gather in the building, we will:

  • Move to a retiring collection at each service rather than passing the plate
  • Serve only individually wrapped biscuits or no biscuits with tea and coffee at the end of services; tea and coffee will be served in compostable cups
  • Place disposable hand towels in all toilets and bathrooms
  • Regularly disinfect all door handles and surfaces in church buildings
  • Ensure antibacterial hand gel is used by all communion administrators, but also that hand gel is available at the door and members of the congregation are encouraged to use it as they enter
  • Encourage the congregation to self-isolate should they feel unwell in order to minimise a contact risk, especially to the most vulnerable
  • Encourage people to greet each other without using physical contact

Pastoral Care

Perhaps most importantly is our commitment to our communities – to caring well for them at a time of high anxiety and uncertainty.

In addition to the aforementioned processes, we will need to ensure that we have strong pastoral networks, particularly to ensure that we look after the most vulnerable and elderly in our congregation. We have recently been developing a new pastoral care team at St Mary’s, St Gabriel’s currently has good networks, as does St Luke’s, but we would be wise to ensure that we have a good overview of who is in particular need, and of the best and most appropriate ways in which to care for them. The clergy team is due to meet next week to discuss this, but the work of compiling lists of those in need is to begin immediately.

We have been advised to be wise regarding pastoral visiting to ensure we don’t spread the virus to people who might already be vulnerable. We are beginning to establish both practical care and contact support for anyone who is self-isolating, including WhatsApp groups and phone support. We will communicate to the church via our website, social media channels, in our notice sheet, and in person to keep them updated and to encourage people to make contact if they are self-isolating or feeling anxious.

At present, we have not been instructed to cease gathering together for worship. This is happening in other countries and so we will be highly responsive to any change in directive. If any group feels uncomfortable about meeting, we want people to feel able to make cancellations, to reschedule or to meet via Skype/FaceTime/over the phone if easier.

Revd Adam Childs (curate) and I are making arrangements for a service to be live-streamed via Facebook if we are not able to gather on a Sunday.

I have highlighted some matters which relate to particular teams for quick access to information:

For children’s ministry: Antibacterial hand gel to be available and used as children arrive in their groups. Please do not serve toast, but packaged snacks are allowed. Please disinfect door handles and surfaces before and after Sunday morning.

For prayer team/prayer ministry: Please do not lay hands on those for whom you are praying.

For refreshments: Please do not serve biscuits/cake, but pre-packaged biscuits are acceptable. Please continue to disinfect surfaces. Antibacterial hand gel to be available at refreshment stations.

For stewards and welcomers: Please encourage people to wave or refrain from hugging/handshakes as they arrive or leave. Our collections will be a retiring collection at the end of each service.

Cleaning team: Please could you ensure that we disinfect all door handles and regularly used surfaces.

St Luke’s Market stall: Please follow the advice of Team Leaders and London Farmers’ Market.

More information:

It is understandable that we will each have lots of questions and will approach this situation with a range of perspectives and opinions. For further information, and for the most updated advice for churches, please visit the Church of England website here.

Please don’t hesitate to be in contact if you require further information.

Revd Vanessa Conant, Rector, St Mary’s & the Parish of Walthamstow


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