Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wakey Wakey

There may be a media frenzy around swine flu, but the Church of England is making up for it by saying virtually nothing. No kind of statement on the national site (not even a special prayer, which is normally what they put up for this kind of thing), and the following (slim) pickings from Diocesan sites:

Manchester: keeping an updated section of the site, not telling people too much, but at least advising on the flow of information - that more guidance will come out when it's needed.

Bath and Wells: general advice on what to do in a flu pandemic, posted on the site at the beginning of 2009.

Update 30/4: Oxford too, and other dioceses are issuing advice through the normal channels via area deans etc. (see comments)

Hopefully there's more and Google have missed some, or perhaps they censored them, who knows? Or perhaps the CofE is being wisely chilled about it all and the media and bloggers like me will all look a bit silly in a couple of weeks when it all blows over.

I was going to cite an action plan by a district council in the Midlands as an example of good practice, but unfortunately it got posted with a number of 'confidential' pages about vaccination centres, so I've just rung them to let them know. Hopefully that's saved the webmasters job!

Here's the question: will there be a co-ordinated national information centre from the CofE for this, or will it happen piecemeal diocese by diocese? You'll see the reason for this question tomorrow...


  1. I fail to see why you think the Church should comment on this. Providing general guidance for the population? Surely not their job. Offering theological reflection? Possibly, but not I think as an official statement, and not to be rushed. Providing guidance for clergy like yourself on how to deal with public panic? Well, that should be a part of your general clergy training.

    I can see all kinds of dangers in the church rushing out advice about a situation about which it is not really qualified to offer helpful advice. If there are any advantages apart from responding to pressure to be seen to do something, then please let us know.

  2. Thanks Peter. I agree that it's not the church's place to offer general guidance, but I think what Manchester have done is a good idea: it communicates that they're aware of what's going on, but also recognises that churches do need to be prepared.

    If there is (and lets hope not) a pandemic, it will have an impact on local churches, there may be restrictions on meetings, and the church needs to work out in advance what it might do if several key personnel are ill at the same time. I think that makes sense, and various other bodies - councils, nhs trusts etc., have those plans in place and available to view.

    I recognise that it's early days, and there's a risk of being premature. Of course the other comment the church could make (which you've made) is for people to calm down a bit, which is also something worth saying, and something that's not coming across from the rest of the media.

  3. For what it's worth, we've just received comprehensive advice from the Diocese of London, issued via Area Deans, together with the latest Dept of Health missive on the situation. They are stressing - and perhaps this links to the reason for the relative silence on Diocesan homepages - the need not to induce panic or undue concern...

    I've been pondering whether to preach something specifically relevant to the situation on Sunday... undecided as yet.

  4. David - we've put something up on this because people are asking. We have consant contact with the lead agency for emergency planning in the Thames Valley = TVP, as well as circulating among bishop's staff a daily NHS briefing. The simple fact is that most dioceses seem to have plans, because they were drawn up with civil authorities in the aftermath of the avian flu scare 18 months ago.

    The basic fact, though, is that there is not yet the kind of emergency some journos are suggesting. There are things that could happen that would raise the risks, but they haven't yet. There's no point getting everyone into the lifeboats until the ship starts to take on water, at the very least. The danger is that if people panic and run away with some of the strange notions circulating about Swine flu, they really won't be in anything like the right place to respond sensibly if things do, at some point in the future deteriorate. Crying wolf and all that. That is dangerous.

    In this diocese we are monitoring the situation every day, with active input from our lead emergency authority, and responding to enquiries. I had one today about intincting and the chalice — a reminder of the panic about this and AIDS a few years ago... People must do what they think is right, of course, and there are plans in place for more escalated levels of this thing were they to happen, but we don't seem to be there, by any manner of means, yet; watch this space! And in the meanwhile all the guidance is that sensible hygiene (washing hands etc) is the most effective counter-measure. There is no medical point in any of the masks etc. which seem to be appearing around the place.

  5. Bishop Alan - thanks, very helpful. My hope was that most dioceses did have plans but just weren't saying so. From a reassurance point of view, saying 'its ok, we have a plan and we know what we're doing' is better than not saying anything.

    I wonder if there'd be a place for a national FAQ list covering things like communion, sharing the peace, church meetings etc. at some point, which could be used by every Diocese.