Guidance for Quaker meetings on Coronavirus 13th March 2020 from Britain Yearly Meeting (Quakers in Britain)
As the coronavirus situation develops, Quaker Meetings need to consider how best to keep members and attenders, employees, and building users, informed and protected.
Quaker communities are open and welcome everyone. Some of our members and visitors are at particular risk, including the elderly and people with underlying health conditions. So that we can care for each other, we all need to take care. Meetings are encouraged to take sensible precautions, while not increasing levels of anxiety.
‘Loving care is not something that those sound in mind and body ‘do’ for others but a process that binds us together.’ (Quaker faith & practice 12.01)
Britain Yearly Meeting has no public health expertise. We suggest referring to relevant sources for further information:
· Public Health England leads the response to new and emerging threats to health for all nations of the UK and Crown Dependencies https://www.gov.uk/…/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-t…
· The National Health Service has advice for individuals https://www.nhs.uk/c…/coronavirus-covid-19/common-questions/
· The Scottish Government and the Welsh Government also have information
· AM Trustees who are responsible for employing staff may find it helpful to refer to advice from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations https://www.ncvo.org.uk/practical-s…/information/coronavirus
These websites provide advice about actions to take in order to prevent the spread of the disease, and situations in which people should self-isolate. Quakers and Quaker meetings should follow this guidance in relation to most activities.
Below are responses to some ‘Quaker-specific’ queries.
Should we hold meeting for worship?
Meetings can continue to hold meeting for worship. Current advice is that most people can continue to go to public places (including religious gatherings), though in Scotland the government says public gatherings of more than 500 people should be cancelled.
If someone has a new and persistent cough lasting at least four hours, or has a temperature of 37.8°C or above, they should stay at home (self-isolate) for seven days
What about people who cannot attend meeting for worship? Or if our meeting venue has closed?
BYM and Woodbrooke are working to support Friends to set up online worship for their local communities and are putting together resources to help people set these up. Anyone interested in hosting or eldering an online meeting should email firstname.lastname@example.org explaining their interest and their meeting. Woodbrooke is also hoping to expand its online worship which anyone can access.
Should door-keepers shake hands? Should we shake hands after meeting?
There is currently no specific advice from public officials about shaking hands. However, people are advised to wash hands when they get home or into work, and this should probably apply to arriving at meeting also.
As a precautionary measure, we suggest you do not shake hands. Shaking hands is not a core part of our faith; rather, it is a way to indicate that the meeting for worship has finished and a visible expression of our equality.
Think about the best way and time to let people in meeting know about not shaking hands. This might be as they arrive, at an appropriate point during worship, or at the close of worship (before people start shaking hands). Consider how any announcement can be heard by latecomers, people preparing tea & coffee, or those in children’s meeting.
What about lettings?
Groups that use spaces in meeting houses will need to take their own decisions about whether to continue their activities. Venues, and the organisations that use them, should monitor government advice, which will affect decisions about issues such as travel, staffing and insurance.
What about national Quaker events?
Britain Yearly Meeting is following public health advice. At present, we’re continuing to prepare for planned events. We’re encouraging Friends to consider their own situation and if they feel at risk, or they might pose a risk, to make their own decision not to attend. We’re monitoring the situation carefully and if public health advice changes we will make decisions and inform participants at the earliest opportunity.
What about BYM staff?
We’re working hard to support all our employees and to maintain their health. Some staff may need to work from home or not attend work but, of course, we’re committed to paying salaries.
During the outbreak we hope to be able to sustain as much work as possible, but there is a chance that staff sickness will have an impact on some programmes – if so, we’ll appreciate Friends’ understanding.
What other practical steps should we take?
Practical decisions should be taken on the basis of expert medical advice (see the links above) and local circumstances. This could include whether to provide hand sanitisers, and bins for tissues; or to post notices about hand-washing; cleaning arrangements; and the provision of refreshments. AM trustees should take steps to ensure the health and safety of any employees.
Some of us will be particularly worried – perhaps due to existing health conditions, issues at work, or close connections to people affected around the world. Some Friends will need to self-isolate, and some may contract the disease. Although it’s not sensible to visit those who are unwell or self-isolating, there are other ways to support people – on the phone, by email, with practical help ,like running errands or bringing food to their door and through prayer.
“The spiritual welfare of a meeting is greatly helped if … its members take a warm personal interest in one another’s welfare. The pastoral work of the Society is specially committed to the overseers, but our members generally should not allow themselves to feel that they are relieved from responsibility. In the greater events of life … it is our duty and privilege to share in one another’s joys and sorrows; and sympathy thus shown is a potent means of binding us in closer fellowship.” (Quaker faith & practice 10.17)
This is our advice on 13th March 2020. We will distribute updated advice if needed by further developments.
Quakers in Britain