Letter from the Bishop of Taunton

April 2020

Time to show our care for all.

As we reflect on the Easter story this month I’m reminded of the sense of ‘touch’. It was Passover, a religious festival, and as Jesus was laid in the tomb, Sabbath was upon them. So the usual burial
rites were not attended to by the women who were closest to Jesus. It would have been improper to touch the dead body. Hence their early arrival on that resurrection morning.

In the following days, in attempts to dispel disbelief, Jesus’ followers had opportunity to not only talk with him, eat with him, but also touch him as he came among them. Thomas’s doubt was dispelled as he was invited to place his hand in the wounds of Christ.’

As I write this we are wondering what Covid 19 might have in store for us in the UK. We hear now that Italy has taken drastic action in hoping to contain the virus. I don’t know what further precautions we in the UK may have taken by the time you read this.

Currently we are all taking greater care with our personal hygiene in washing hands and ensuring we use and bin tissues. Today, along with the rest of the Church of England, we in Bath and Wells, have recommended that we only receive bread or wafers at Holy Communion and refrain from touching, through blessing, sharing the Peace or prayer through laying on of hands.

There will be various responses to the concerns raised by the Government and the media. Some may feel anxiety or fear about the nature of the virus whilst others may wonder if the emergency planning appears over-reactive. Our response as a Church must be that we do what we can to ensure we stay safe by taking all precautions recommended. And that we do all we can to reassure people who may feel vulnerable and worried by staying calm and showing compassion and care for all.

But how do we express such care? I’ve realised that touch plays quite an important part in showing we care for someone. When I was training as a nurse for a brief period many years ago, I recall being shown some research on touch. It was an eye-opener! Even the briefest of touches can cause people to feel better, cared for and happier.

But the presence of Coronavirus means that we are having to withdraw touch to prevent the possibility of infection. So how might we try to replace touch with other signals of our care and value? What might that look like?

As folk may find themselves ‘self-isolating’ due to potential symptoms of the virus we have the opportunity to find new ways to show our care. Phone calls and cards, food deliveries, creative use of social media and streaming of worship services may all be ways to stay in touch and help people to know they are not alone. Rather than finding ourselves paralysed by the situation let us discover how we can create new opportunities to strengthen our relationships and communities.

May our actions be the reassuring, life-affirming ‘touch’ of the risen Christ this Easter!

Easter blessings, The Right Revd Ruth Worsley