In the advice from the Recording Clerk’s office (reproduced below), Paul Parker makes many sensible points. Quite correctly, he notes that “Britain Yearly Meeting has no public health expertise” and suggests good ways to find that expertise.
Here in Bath, though, we do have someone whose working life was all about keeping the public safe and healthy, whether in terms of fire safety or environmental health: Graham Page. When we sent round Paul Parker’s note by email, Graham responded, and I was so taken with his insight that I wanted to share it more widely. Graham writes:
Whilst hand washing is always a sensible health precaution … the essential point is that like its predecessor coronaviruses, this is essentially a respiratory infection spread primarily by droplet infection through coughing and sneezing, and self-control in this area is more important . Friends should pay particular attention to the advice given by Public Health England regarding self-awareness of potential respiratory infections in themselves and those with whom they are in close contact. Friends who suspect that they have relevant symptoms should resist the temptation to carry on and seriously consider restricting their activities (i.e. self isolating). This often involves Friends in difficult choices as much of what we do in our work and social lives is in support of others.
However these are not normal times and it may be in these particular circumstances the best way of serving others is to pay attention to ourselves.
In Love and Friendship.
Guidance for Quaker meetings on Coronavirus issued by the Recording Clerk of Britain Yearly Meeting on 5th March 2020
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
- The National Health Service has advice for individuals
- 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
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). You only need to stay away from public places (self-isolate) if advised to by the NHS 111 online coronavirus service or a medical professional.
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 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, 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 5th March 2020. We will distribute updated advice if needed by further developments.
Paul Parker, Recording Clerk, Quakers in Britain