LONDON (Christian News Network) — Some are expressing objection after several Anglican bishops signed a letter stating that volunteer chaplains within their jurisdictions may not make in-person visits to sick or dying patients during the coronavirus crisis but should rather minister via video chat. Those who disagree with the bishops state that Christians need to be present physically and not just virtually, remarking that “eternal destiny is at stake.”
On April 9, the publication The Times reported that Stephen Cottrell, the bishop of Chelmsford, wrote to bishops and local chaplains about the need for “extremely strict discipline regarding contact.” He stated that chaplains may not go on wards or see patients during this time, including those who are not hospitalized for COVID-19.
A letter posted on the Diocese of Chelmsford website from Cottrell and the bishops of London, Barking and Stepney also outlined that although “every instinct is to be alongside those who are sick and dying, to offer prayer, to accompany people through suffering and minister at the time of death, …. we who are priests and chaplains also have a duty to prevent infection and so save lives.”
It noted that while the Anglican lead chaplain for Barts Health NHS Trust had cited a need for additional chaplains, and that the Diocese of Chelmsford and London had identified willing volunteers, “these additional volunteers cannot assist in face-to-face patient contact as this would increase the risk of infection transmission within, into, and out of the hospital.”
“They can, however, assist in pastoral support of patients via video call on phone or tablet, and in the vitally important task of providing pastoral care to NHS staff,” the letter said. “This was what was discussed with the lead chaplain earlier this week and it is what we will continue to advise our volunteers, unless otherwise formally requested by the Trust.”
The letter was also published by Anglican Ink with the headline, “Parish clergy asked not to volunteer at hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic, but serve remotely.”
However, the group Christian Concern notes that the deputy head of chaplaincy at Barts Health told The Times that volunteer chaplains would be provided with protective wear, signifying that he conversely wants in-person visitations at the five hospitals within the system.
“The hospital would welcome qualified professional volunteers who can give end-of-life care and provide solace. We would train them and give them PPE [personal protective equipment],” he said.
“When people are suffering, they naturally reflect on spiritual matters and are more open to prayer and a message of forgiveness. Christians throughout the ages have risen to this need and without thought for themselves have ministered and cared for the sick and dying,” Tim Dieppe, head of public policy for Christian Concern stated.
Stating that “eternal destiny is at stake,” Dieppe believes that bedside ministry can be conducted while “[p]recautions should be taken as far as practicable, including wearing protective equipment and exercising social distancing. They could even self-isolate afterwards if so recommended.”
Dieppe pointed to an article by author Tyler O’Neil that detailed how Christians were on the front lines of caring for the sick and dying during the Antonine Plague (165-180 A.D.) and the Cyprian Plague (249-262 A.D.), sometimes laying down their own lives to save others.
“Christians in the second and third centuries A.D. lived counter-cultural lifestyles. They stood out because they refused to sacrifice to Roman emperors (who were considered gods) and they stood out because they cared for the sick, the orphans, and the widows. They saved children who were left to die (an early form of abortion/infanticide) and they founded the first hospitals,” the article states.
“When early Christians risked their lives to save pagans during the plagues, they lived out the teachings of Jesus Christ, providing concrete evidence that their lives had been changed by the Holy Spirit of charity. Their sacrifice was a witness to those around them, and it helped spread the gospel by expanding their social networks.”
“People are looking for spiritual answers to the questions thrown up by this crisis,” Dieppe remarked. “We are faced with the fragility of physical health and life, and economic fragility too. The Church can and should use every possible means to meet this new-found spiritual hunger. The harvest is plentiful. The workers are few.”
“More than ever, people are needing to hear the gospel and they’re needing spiritual healing,” Roger Kiska, attorney with the Christian Legal Center, likewise commented to Revelation TV.
He agreed with the outlet that clergy who wish to go to the bedsides of the sick and dying should contact Barts Health NHS Trust to see how they can become involved. The decision from the Anglican bishops only applies to the Church of England and not other denominations.