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Sunday, 8 March 2020

A time of solidarity, responsibility, and prayer

"....from plague, pestilence, and famine..Good Lord, deliver us" 

This supplication from the Book of Common Prayer must have had particular significance as the Litany was recited this morning in St George's Church, Venice, by the priest, Fr Malcolm Bradshaw, and the reader in training, Philip Jones. (There was no congregation as public worship is suspended in the region, see below). Indeed, the people of this diocese, particularly in Northern Italy,are experiencing what one priest has summed up as "strange times". 

Philip James, Fr Malcolm and the Patriarch of Venice
As we are a very mobile and international diocese Bishop Robert and I have written to the clergy with instruction about church gatherings and liturgical celebrations that go, necessarily, beyond the current guidelines issued by the Church of England, centrally. (The Central Church of England advice can be found here:

In summary, here are the measures advised for this diocese, based on both good general hygeine practice and medical advice:

1. Carry tissues to catch coughs and sneezes and bin them right away.
2. Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and / or use a good quality sanitiser 
3. If possible provide hand sanitiser at entrances to churches and meeting places. Ensure a supply of soap or sanitiser in cloakrooms and kitchens. 
4. The use of holy water stoups is discontinued until further notice
5. Clean hard surfaces such as door handles and communion rails regularly
6. Priests presiding at the Eucharist and Communion administrators and servers, both before and after distribution of Communion, should sanitise their hands with soap and water or sanitiser. Sidespeople, welcomers and those serving refreshments should follow  similar measures. 
7. The Peace should be limited to an exchange of words of peace to those in closest proximity rather than through physical contact (kiss or handshake), until further notice
8. Until further notice, the Holy Communion is to be distributed to the congregation in the form of the consecrated Bread / Wafer only. The presiding priest alone receives from the chalice. (The doctrine of concommitance means that the full benefit of the Sacrament is received through reception of only one of the elements). 
It is worthwhile repeating here that the practice of the intinction (when the communicant dips the consecrated Bread into the Chalice) is not permitted. This is a most unhygenic practice at any time, not only in the present situation. It introduces not only pathogens into the chalice but also gluten which can affect those with certain allergies.

There may be value in asking those attending Church to sign a list so that the possible spread of disease can be traced, if required by the authorities.

In Lombardy and Veneto Regions of Northern Italy, government authorities have restricted public gatherings including church services until 3 April. Our churches in these regions have already suspended public worship since before Ash Wednesday.  The clergy Northern Italy are keeping in touch with the faithful through distributing prayers and readings electronically. (Holy Ghost Genoa pioneeringly broadcast a virtual mass. In Genoa region, after a week's suspension, the authorities permitted, cautiously, for services to resume).

I have assured the clergy in Northern Italy of the prayers of sisters and brothers across the diocese as they care for the vulnerable, the elderly, the sick, the bereaved and the fearful in their communities. May God strengthen their ministry in this extraordinary time, and give courage and a renewed sense of community responsibility and solidarity to all.

The Jesuits in the USA have circulated this prayer which I think many will find useful:
Jesus Christ, you travelled through towns and villages “curing every disease and illness.” At your command, the sick were made well. Come to our aid now, in the midst of the global spread of the coronavirus, that we may experience your healing love.
Heal those who are sick with the virus. May they regain their strength and health through quality medical care.
Heal us from our fear, which prevents nations from working together and neighbours from helping one another.
Heal us from our pride, which can make us claim invulnerability to a disease that knows no borders.Jesus Christ, healer of all, stay by our side in this time of uncertainty and sorrow.
Be with those who have died from the virus. May they be at rest with you in your eternal peace.
Be with the families of those who are sick or have died. As they worry and grieve, defend them from illness and despair. May they know your peace.
Be with the doctors, nurses, researchers and all medical professionals who seek to heal and help those affected and who put themselves at risk in the process. May they know your protection and peace.
Be with the leaders of all nations. Give them the foresight to act with charity and true concern for the well-being of the people they are meant to serve. Give them the wisdom to invest in long-term solutions that will help prepare for or prevent future outbreaks. May they know your peace, as they work together to achieve it on earth.
Whether we are home or abroad, surrounded by many people suffering from this illness or only a few, Jesus Christ, stay with us as we endure and mourn, persist and prepare. In place of our anxiety, give us your peace.
Jesus Christ, heal us.
Archdeacon David Waller of Italy and Malta, on a recent visit to All Saints Rome, pointed out general the good advice:

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