On Wednesday, the World Health Organization declared the global spread of illness caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) as a pandemic.  The outbreak at the Lynn Valley Care Centre and Hollyburn House has brought the pandemic to our doorstep.  This, together with reports of some cases of community transmission, has understandably heightened the levels of anxiety for many in our community. In this time of uncertainty, it is crucial that our behaviors be based on the guidelines and recommendations of our provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, as well as regional and local health authorities: the BC Center for Disease Control and Vancouver Coastal Health, respectively. It is also of paramount importance that we consider how we can continue to gather around the means of grace—the practice of Word and Sacrament each week—while protecting the health of all.  As the ELCIC Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on COVID-19 stated: “We want to ensure best practices in our worship and community life together, especially for the sake of those most vulnerable to this and other diseases." According to the BC Center for Disease control, those most vulnerable to this disease are the elderly. We are all cognizant that this includes the majority of our membership. I want each of you to know that if you choose to absent yourself from worship and gatherings of our community in order to protect yourself, you have my full support.

In a conference call with community faith leaders yesterday, Dr. Bonnie Henry stressed again and again to all of us – whether old or young – stay home if you are ill. The message given was: do not wait until you have a fever or serious cough, but to avoid contact with others even with a case of mild sniffles. If you find yourself in this situation, please call the church office. Shelley will either contact me or a member of the Pastoral Care Committee. We want to know and offer our support, whether that be prayer or arranging to pick up some groceries for you. If you develop a cough, fever, or difficulty breathing, contact the Public Health Authority by calling 811. The other public health measures Dr. Bonnie Henry has recommended to stop the transmission and spread of COVID-19 center around hand hygiene, the practice of social distancing and respiratory etiquette – covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing; and if you don’t have a tissue, to cough or sneeze into the upper sleeve of your shirt, not into your hands.

Hand Hygiene – Actions we have taken and are taking and actions we are asking of you  

We were able to purchase a limited supply of hand sanitizer before “panic buying” set in and have set up hand sanitizing stations in key locations. Because our supply is limited, we are asking you to wash your hands with soap and water readily available in all four of our washrooms before entering the sanctuary (nave) and preserve our supply for visitors and late comers.

Our volunteer sacristans, communion servers and presiders have always practiced good hand hygiene. In this season of heightened vigilance, we will continue to do so by washing our hands with hot water and soap at the sink in the sacristy before preparing and serving communion.  

Social Distancing - Adjustments to our liturgical practices

Sharing the Peace

Our public health officials are requesting that we greet one another without physical contact. We can express our Christian goodwill toward one another with a bow, a nod, a wave, or elbow bump.

The Common Cup

Although there has been some scientific evidence that the common cup, when properly administered, is hygienically sound, Dr. Bonnie Henry has recommended that we refrain from this practice during the pandemic. We will continue to offer the wine of Holy Communion in individual glasses. Please wait for the communion server to offer the glass to you rather than reach for it yourself. We will have other communion assistants follow with a tray for you to dispose your empty glass. It is also theologically sound to commune by taking the bread only – it is still full participation in the sacrament.

We are a small congregation with the gift of a large sanctuary with many empty pews. Now is the time to use them! The recommendation from today’s meeting with health officials was to maintain a distance of at least one metre or arm’s length from one another. I know this goes against our social nature, but please do spread out in the pews. 

Social Distancing – Adjustments to our Coffee Time and Community Potluck Meals

Coffee Time

As the level of risk for contracting COVID-19 continues to be low, we will continue with coffee time for the time being. We may have to curtail this activity as the situation evolves. Coffee served in ceramic cups does not add risk of infection, provided they are properly cleansed and sanitized. There is no need to switch to paper products. To minimize contamination, please wait for the designated coffee volunteer to serve you, rather than serve yourself. A reminder to maintain social distance of at least one metre and refrain from hugs and handshakes

Potluck meals

Health officials are recommending refraining from participating in communal meals where food is shared. This applies especially to larger gatherings such as weddings and funerals. Although our numbers are small, we have decided to forgo our potluck meals for the time being. 

A message that came through the Conference Call with community faith leaders, was one of hope. Although we, together with all of the world, are in this grave situation of pandemic, Dr. Bonnie Henry reminded us that it will not last. It may be weeks or even months, but eventually it will come to an end. Another message that came through was the importance of not capitulating, or giving up or being fatalistic. Although cases of community transmission will probably rise, it is not a forgone conclusion that transmission will run out of control and overwhelm our healthcare system.            

Please know that you that I hold you in my heart and prayers. I am in the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays most weeks if you want to share a concern.  On other days, I can always be reached on my cell phone – 604.813.4451. This is a time for us to draw on the strengths of our community – our commitment to one another and trust in God’s abiding love and care. We will continue to follow the daily updates from the BC Centre for Disease Control and share additional news with you as the evolving situation warrants.

Let hope be the antidote to fear.

Let solidarity be the antidote to blame.

Let our shared humanity be the antidote to our shared threat

~ Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General 

God of the present moment, God who in Jesus stills the stormand soothes the frantic heart; bring hope and courage to allwho wait or work in uncertainty. We give thanks for our public health officials standing guard against this virus; For their commitment to do all they can to protect the health of your children. Hasten the day when the virus will have run its course;quicken scientists to develop medications and vaccines; call out the best instincts of your people—love, neighborliness, compassion, and a sense of caring for every member of your beloved community on Earth. We pray out of the depths to you, O God of hope, through your son, Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen. 

Adapted from New Zealand Prayer Book and a prayer by Anne Rowthorn