Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Swine Flu - Planning Ahead

It seems more and more likely that, when churches gear up again after the mellow month of August, swine flu will have taken hold in a big way. So I'm wondering if as a church we need to work out now how we're going to manage in the autumn.

Basic advice for individuals is here on the NHS site, very clear. Basically: have a 'flu friend' who can pick up antivirals for you, wash your hands regularly and use tissues, and ring your GP from home if you think you've got the symptoms. Health Protection Agency FAQ's on swine flu here.

Advice from the government for faith groups, issued in May, is here.

Lancaster Diocese (RC) has a helpful booklet.

Key things seem to be:

- vigilance over hygiene: washing hands etc. and encouraging folk in the church to do the same. In that regard, Dave Walkers cartoon may not be that far off. Cleaning door handles and surfaces, and then drying them afterwards, gives the virus less chance to hang around.

- plan for key services to be continued. Churches need to decide what their core activities are (worship, visiting, outreach) and how to maintain them if, say, 10-20% of key people are off with H1N1 at any stage. How will we let people know if services are cancelled? Could there be a prayer/service leaflet for people to use at home if this happens? Is there a publicly known phone/email contact for people to find out what you're doing? How will you communicate with people midweek if key events need to be changed/cancelled?

- how to support the community. Church folk could offer to be 'flu friends' for people who are isolated or who aren't sure who to ask. There may also be key local services (post office, shop etc.) which might need voluntary help to keep going if staff are ill.

- coping with extra demands: e.g. for funerals, pastoral care, home visiting etc. I'm guessing that some of this will look after itself - various meetings and appointments will be cancelled if swine flu really takes hold, and that will free up some clergy time for funerals. However, in my experience a funeral can take 4-5 hours to prepare and do, and it's quite exhausting, so it's not just a matter of doing a funeral rather than going to the Gutters Subcommittee. There's probably other things to look at, e.g. can Readers (CofE) be trained up to take funeral services? Can there be more support between churches if leaders are off sick?

- children: if local schools close, should Sunday school close too? Under-5's are both more infectious, and more vulnerable, so at some point we'll need to make the call over toddler groups etc., and to alert people to that as a possibility.

- Communion: thanks to Richard Frank for this 1-page summary from London Diocese, which points out that, in a mild pandemic, the chalice can be shared in communion if you follow the proper hygiene rules. However the Catholic church has been advising some of its churches just to use bread for communion, and to put it in people's hands, rather than on the tongue (as happens in some churches). Our advice from the council is not to share communion from the same cup. That means Free Church individual cups will be ok. We might also need to rethink sharing the peace, and the vicar/pastor/etc. shaking hands with everyone as they arrive/leave.

The CofE website has a swine flu page, with links to prayers, and a couple of other links - unfortunately the one to the NHS is broken!

We've started discussing all of the above this week, it would be helpful to know if anyone else is further down the tracks than we are.

1 comment:

  1. K comments:
    I may be quite wrong as I haven’t had anything to do with pandemic planning for a while but doesn’t it depend on the strain as to who is the most vunerable ie it wont necessarily be young and it wont become apparent until it starts.