Friday, August 07, 2009

The Church of Ireland on Swine Flu

Got a letter this morning from the RCB (Representative Church Body, which is a bit like the Church of Ireland's Civil Service) containing Interim Advice to Clergy on the H1N1 Flu Pandemic from the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of Ireland. The text sets out some commonsense precautions for ministers and the wider church to deal with the spread of Swine Flu.

The very high level of media attention on the H1N1 pandemic has led to a variety of enquiries and expressions of concern as to practice in the Church of Ireland. The notes that follow are advisory in nature and offer an initial framework to parishes as they address the issues raised by the pandemic. These have been drawn together following consultation among the Bishops and are offered subject to further approval or other advice that may be considered appropriate by your diocesan bishop as the pandemic develops. They may require future modification if further advice from Government agencies in each jurisdiction is issued.

1. Keep a sense of proportion. However, infection rates in Ireland are rising and likely to rise significantly if holiday makers come into contact with the virus and bring it home or visitors to Ireland bring it with them.

2. Use common sense. If you feel ill and display influenza-like symptoms stay at home. Do not come to church services until you feel well. Do not call the clergy for pastoral visitation unless you are told by a medical professional that your situation is grave. The symptoms to be aware of in the case of the H1N1 strain of flu include fever, cough, sore throat, muscle pains and gastrointestinal symptoms.

3. Hand to hand contact, as in the normal procedure for greeting people, including Exchanging the Peace at the Eucharist, involves some risks. The spreading of the virus by hand to hand contact is an important risk factor. However, spread is, first and foremost by respiratory means. It is possible to continue to exchange the Peace as long as proper hand and good general hygiene is observed. The same observation applies to all other physical contact including the shaking of hands in greeting.

4. The canonical elements in Holy Communion are bread and wine. Communicants may, if they wish, choose to avoid the Common Cup and receive in one kind only. This is acceptable and may be advisable if we see a significant rise in the rates of infection in Ireland.

5. The practice of intinction involving the use of wafers is permitted under Canon 13(5) but is only envisaged for Communion at home with the sick and housebound where this is necessary. It is not advised for services in church where intinction might take the form of each communicant dipping the Bread of the Eucharist in the Cup. This practice is no less risky than taking wine from the Common Cup.

6. The use of antiseptic gels and tissues may be of some assistance to both celebrant and recipient, but personal cleanliness at all times should be the invariable watchword whether or not a pandemic situation obtains. In the case of tissues, careful and hygienic disposal is absolutely essential. Thorough hand washing is just as effective and disposal is provided for via the waste disposal system. Respiratory masks have been widely advertised as ineffective.

7. Arrangements for parochial activities on parish premises should observe the commonsense provisions set out above, especially at note 6.

8. Commonsense arrangements locally adapted should be put in place as circumstances require. Significant numbers of deaths may occur associated with H1N1 Flu and these may reflect the particular vulnerability of younger people and children. When this happens pastoral care may be particularly demanding and clergy should seek colleague help if they feel the need.

9. Prayer. It is an obligation on the Church at all times to pray for people in their need. The outbreak of Swine Flu has created a great deal of fear as well as significant sickness among the community. Church members are urged to remember these matters in their prayers as well as those in the caring professions.

10. For reference:

Northern Ireland: the UK Department of Communities and Local Government has published Faith Communities and Pandemic Flu: Guidance for faith communities and local influenza pandemic committees which should be read in full by everyone concerned with the running of local churches:

The Northern Ireland Swine Flu Helpline is 0800 0514 142 and up-to-date information is available on the NIDirect website:

Republic of Ireland: Advice is available from the HSE in the Republic of Ireland on its website:

There is a helpline on: FREEPHONE 1800 941100.

It seems that cleanliness is next to godliness, whether in flu time or not. It remains to be seen how hard the flu will hit come the winter - especially since many die from flu every year anyway.

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