As you know, the government has declared the Covid 19 spread to be a pandemic. That means it is not a question of if, but when, many Australians become infected. The Government is encouraging us all to take steps to slow the spread of the virus within our community for the good of the whole community. Slowing the spread, even if it does not stop new people becoming infected, prevents the health system from becoming overwhelmed. There are finite numbers of health personnel, and finite physical resources like hospital beds and ventilators, the latter having a key role in the treatment of those with serious respiratory illness. If the spread of the virus is slowed and the peak of infections is thereby reduced there remains capacity in the system to treat the most seriously ill. But if the virus is allowed to spread quickly the number of infections, and therefore the number of seriously ill people, rises very rapidly. The demand for ventilators may then exceed the number available and hard choices must be made about who is offered what treatment. Rapid spread may also mean that large numbers of health workers are sick simultaneously and so staffing our hospitals and providing care to those who need it, not just those infected with Covid 19 but those with other and pre-existing serious diseases, becomes difficult. So while some of us may remain uninfected, and some of us get a mild infection, it is important for all of us to do what we can to prevent infection. This is love of neighbour.
It is especially important for those groups, like churches, that meet regularly to work to prevent the spread of infection. Meeting together to praise our Lord, pray together and hear His word is a source of great encouragement for us, but meeting also can facilitate the spread of the virus where appropriate steps are not taken. We are therefore making changes to the way we do things, changes that we hope will prevent the spread of the virus amongst us. You will notice those changes from the time you enter the building on Sunday.
Changes to Sunday
Coming into the building you will notice posters reminding you of the steps you can take to prevent the spread of the virus – washing hands with soap or sanitiser, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, not touching your face with your hands. These are all important things you can do.
You will notice that the door is open. Covid 19 can survive on hard surfaces and so we want to decrease the number of times you need to touch a hard surface with your hand. We will have disinfected the door handles and other surfaces, but it also helps to minimise contact with them. The doors into the auditorium will also be open, or opened for you.
You won’t get a hug or a handshake from the welcomer, again in an attempt to minimise contact transfer of the virus, and we would be grateful if you made your own policy ‘no hug, no handshake’ for the time being. There are alternative ways of greeting, so be creative.
When you come to the sign in desk one of the welcome team will sign you in and hand you your name tag to prevent the screen from becoming a source of transmission.
If you haven’t sanitised your hands in the car we would encourage you to use hand sanitiser before you enter the auditorium, again to prevent spread on hard surfaces like the backs of seats.
In the service it will be much the same as before, although the handles of the blue bags will have been disinfected, and the AV team will be live streaming the service. We have tested this once before, and this Sunday we will be live streaming so that it can be a regular and reliable feature of our service when some have to start to self-isolate or are put in quarantine.
You will also notice changes when you leave the service for morning tea or supper. Food on open platters can be a source of transmission, especially if hands are reaching into bowls or they are contaminated with infected aerosol droplets. So from this Sunday until this pandemic phase ceases there will be no food put out on tables. This Sunday [15/3] only there will be commercial biscuits in individual packets available at the serveries, but from the 22nd we will not be offering food. If you anticipate your child being hungry we would encourage you to bring food from home for him or her, and to supervise your child eating it and not sharing it, in case of allergies.
Drinks will all be served from the servery. The morning tea team will add milk and sugar as you request. This is again an attempt to prevent spread from many people handling jug handles, or having open food sources like sugar bowls. We have asked the team to serve only adults [which for this purpose is year 7 and up] so if you are a parent you will need to get the drinks and the biscuits for your children. This is to prevent children being scalded with hot drinks, which has happened before. We would also ask you to restrict your child to one serve of biscuits, as these are limited.
When you have finished your drink it will be helpful if you can return your cup or glass to the servery, where a team member will put them through the dishwasher.
Children will have had their hands sanitised before they come down from Sunday School.
We will continue serving morning tea in creche. The team will fill the children’s bowls and supervise them eating as this gives us a little more control over the allergy risk. We also ask you to wash the children’s hands before they come into creche. If your child is unwell it is important that they are not placed in creche. Children with coughs, colds and runny noses should for the time being be cared for at home.
All the mid-week meetings of the church are also engaging in how they can prevent spread and will be informing their members of what needs to be done. It is however in our Sunday gathering that we will need to be the most careful as the larger the group the greater the possibility of a number being infected, and the greater difficulty in tracing contacts.
All toys put out will be cleaned at the end of every session, and we are giving continuing thought to how to disinfect areas of the church. Door handles are easy, but the slide in the play area is more challenging. We will be asking for volunteers to help disinfect areas, and particularly on Sunday morning before the 9:00 am service.
There will be changes in the distribution of the Lord’s Supper but we have not yet finalised these. It may be that on Communion Sundays you are asked after the children go out to sit in alternate rows so that the servers can carry the tray and plate to you to prevent multiple people handling them. We are giving particular thought to the bread.
What do I do if I suspect I have come in contact with someone with Covid 19 or suspect I might be infected?
Contact your doctor, or ring the Covid 19 hotline 03 9496 6606.
Follow all medical instructions.
Self-isolate until you know you are not infected, or until you have recovered.
Let us know so that we can stay in touch with you and provide pastoral care and support to you.
If you have come recently from overseas follow the government’s instruction to self-isolate for fourteen days, and let us know you have returned.
What do I do if I just feel ill?
If you or your child is ill love your brothers and sisters by staying at home until you are well, and let us love you by letting us know you are unable to attend because of ill health.
The following websites are helpful sources of information:
Comm Dept Health
What will we do when we learn someone in the congregation has been diagnosed with Covid 19?
1. Contact DHSS for advice and follow their instructions
2. Investigate: when were they last in contact with others at church? When were they last in the building, or in growth group? To allow adequate time for this we may need to not meet on the following Sunday.
3. Disinfect areas they were present in. Here again we will need to follow advice.
4. Communicate clearly with the congregation what has happened and what has been done.
5. Make sure all those the person was in direct contact with self-isolate while being tested.
6. Communicate clearly how those in self isolation can live stream services
7. Welfare checks on those self isolated. Daily phone call by pastoral team
8. Seek to provide other support needed for those affected e.g. help with Shopping or help with their children.
9. Welcome back after recovery or at the end of quarantine.
This is new to us all, and our response may continue to evolve as the virus spreads and its impact becomes more apparent, or the government issues further advice. We do not know but it is highly likely some of us may get sick, and while most of us may only have mild symptoms some of us may get very sick, and a few of us may even die. That is the nature of pandemics with new infectious agents and we need to face that. We do not think Christians are spared the ills of living in a fallen world that is in rebellion to its creator. Paul speaks in Romans of the sufferings of this present time in a creation that groans. But he speaks of them in the context of saying such sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed when we receive our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies [Romans 8:18-25]. That has always been our hope as believers – the resurrection to the new heaven and earth. Paul is also confident, as we should be, that our heavenly Father works all things for the good of those who love Him. We can be confident that He will be helping us to grow in Christlikeness as we deal with this infection, and as we deal with our fears and anxieties around it. It is a good time to bring them to the Lord and let Him test our hearts, to see whether we are trusting Him as He deserves to be trusted. It is also a good time to teach your children about the power, faithfulness and love of Jesus that gives us confidence in Him, even when we are afraid. And Paul assures us in Romans 8 that neither death nor life, nor anything, can separate us from the love of God.
The changes we are making are not prompted by fear, but love. It is love of our neighbours to seek individually and together to limit the spread of the virus, particularly our neighbours whose health is compromised by pre-existing illnesses. It is love of those who serve us in the health care system to seek to limit the spread of the disease. The slower the spread the more adequate will be the resources available to treat the seriously ill. And it is love of Jesus and his reputation that will make us active in seeking to limit the spread of the disease. We want people to know that Jesus’ followers are thoughtful for the good of others. So, even though the changes above may have an impact on your Sunday experience, embrace them cheerfully, and let’s seek to encourage each other and help each other in making them work.
We must make sure that we continue to walk in love in the days ahead, a love that comes from faith, and accompanies a confident hope in our Lord Jesus. If people need to isolate, we have to stay in touch with them and make sure they have all they need. If someone is not at church because they are wisely keeping an off-colour child at home, be in touch to find out how they are. It might be a long winter and so we have to be active to encourage each other and not let anyone drop through the cracks. If some have their income reduced because work has dried up, share with them what you have.
And as an expression of our love – pray and offer hope to a suffering world. Pray for our leaders, that they would make wise decisions about controlling the virus and minimising its impact. Pray for our health care workers, for wisdom and safety. Pray that the Lord would be merciful, both in limiting the spread and severity of the virus, and in using it to turn people back to him as they know again their frailty. Pray for each other, that in the Lord’s mercy He would protect and heal, and above all sustain our trust in His love and His promises, and that we would honour our Lord Jesus through this.
And offer hope. The risen Jesus can raise the dead, and only He can. The risen Jesus can forgive our sins and spare us judgement. You see around you fear and anxiety, and sometimes the selfishness it gives rise to as people seek to save their own lives. As people are forced to see that they are not in charge and not in control, direct them to the gracious Lord who can heal with a word, raise the dead with a word, to whom all created things are subject, and in whom they can find mercy.
Paul says that knowing peace with God through Christ we can rejoice in our sufferings, because suffering produces endurance, endurance character, and character hope – and this hope will never disappoint us because the Spirit floods our hearts with God’s love because He convicts us that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. [Romans 5:1-11] It is an incomparable privilege to live this life with all its challenges and uncertainties as a believer in Jesus. Yet Christ is the Saviour of all sinners who turn to him – so share the hope and privilege that transforms our present trials by sharing Him.