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Coronavirus - advice for ministers – pastoral visiting 

24 March - 9am

Following the Prime Minister’s address to the nation on Monday 23 March, we have revised our guidelines on pastoral visiting. The new government advice may be found here.

Pastoral visiting

  • Home pastoral visits should cease.
  • Care home visits should cease.
  • Hospital pastoral visits are no longer possible in most hospitals and, we imagine, all hospitals in the near future.

We have a duty of care towards those who are vulnerable because of sickness or frailty. Those we pastor invest their trust in us. In the current situation we ought to be proving ourselves worthy of that trust by taking full responsibility for our own actions so that we minimise the risk we present to those we are caring for. We must not presume that we are above the risks associated with being in contact with others.

Pastoral contact
In light of the extreme restrictions on visiting, many churches and ministers are developing new ways of remaining in pastoral contact with people.

  • Most pastoral contact will now have to be by phone or video call.
  • Where even this is difficult, for example with the hard of hearing, do remember low-tech solutions such as letters and cards.
  • Do explain to those contacted why you are phoning or writing rather than visiting.
  • Don’t shy away from praying for the person over the phone. Some are wary of praying for others in this way as if the medium devalues the intimacy of pastoral prayer. Yet this offer of prayer might be vital to their spiritual well-being at that moment.
  • Do if possible set up a phone-buddy system in your church for the more isolated members especially. A phone-buddy check in with the isolated regularly and is able to arrange practical help on their behalf. We have the opportunity here to increase our level of contact with those who are often isolated. May this season be for them a time when they receive more care rather than reduced care.
  • If your church has the ability to connect via Zoom, Skype, or another online conference programme, consider ‘meeting’ more often than on Sunday morning only.
  • If we wish to be in contact with a person who is in a hospital or hospice, as well as the suggestions above on phone calls and cards, we can use chaplaincy services. However, be aware that chaplaincy teams will be under enormous pressure. All volunteer chaplains are no longer allowed to work, so chaplaincy teams are reduced in number. Contacting a chaplain is therefore best reserved for those patients with the greatest need. You can leave a message for the chaplains asking for one of them to visit the patient and to tell the patient that you asked them to go. If leaving a message for a chaplain, please take care to give the patient’s full name and, if you know it, the ward they are on.
  • The same goes for contacting those in prison. Each prison also has a chaplaincy team, but, like hospitals, they are working with reduced staffing.

It is not known how great a pastoral burden the Covid-19 pandemic might become. But the experience of other countries makes it conceivable that we might be required to offer pastoral leadership in very difficult times for a sustained season. Taking care of ourselves will be important too.

  • Firstly, and most importantly, if you yourself feel unwell, please follow all the recommended procedures for self-isolation and reporting. We all have permission to be unwell! Though we hope the permission is in every way unnecessary. Please do not ‘battle on’ even if only you suspect you may be unwell.
  • Develop a plan with your church, mission setting or workplace leadership for how the pastoral essentials will be covered if you yourself are unable to minister for a while.
  • Let your regional minister or local ministerial colleagues know if you are worried about how your church or mission setting will cope if you get ill. They may be able to draw on wider support.  
  • The BACP have two online articles on anxiety about coronavirus and mental health and well-being during self-isolation. Do look at these if you have concerns yourself or for those you pastor.

Finally, as we seek to care for each other as ministers, may we ask for your particular prayers for healthcare chaplains as they minister on the very frontline of this national crisis.

Ministries Team
24 March 2020

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