Visiting the Sick in the Midst of A Pandemic

Visiting the sick – Martyn Relf

Christians have a long record of sacrificially visiting the sick during times of epidemics.

In particular, most church traditions would seek to minister with prayer, laying on of hands and anointing with oil. In the Catholic tradition it is one of the sacraments.

It would seem to me, especially as we might increasingly have members of our churches becoming very sick, that to withhold this sacrament/grace is to deny someone the most important service they could receive in their time of need.

I’m sure most of us would want to stand in the example of our forebears but Covid 19 raises certain questions. Not only would we be taking personal risk visiting the sick but with our current knowledge about transmission, we could be putting the lives of others at risk.

I think it would be good to open a conversation about what is possible in the present circumstances.

Fr Raglan from Our Lady of Ransom says:

‘We are going to people with Sacraments. For their sake as much as ours, when visiting those who are sick we wear a mask and gloves, and do not touch people but use cotton wool/buds (ed: ie for anointing). If it is in hospital, a gown as well.


It is different for the Communion Ministers who take Communion on a regular basis. For now they have to hold off. So it’s emergency cases, and priests only responding to them.

Chichester Diocese guidance on home visits is:

  • Communion should not be taken to people at home, nor should there be home visits for general pastoral reason.
  • In circumstances where people are self-isolating because they are symptomatic or have been in contact with someone who has been symptomatic, no pastoral visits should be undertaken until their isolation ends. However, do offer phone support.
  • In circumstances where someone is self-isolating for their protection and a pastoral visit is thought to be necessary, please make sure you follow rigorous health and hygiene practices and maintain social distancing.

So it would seem that the current guidance from the Catholic and Anglican Churches is that emergency visiting only should take place and then with rigorous precautions. No doubt safe disposal/sanitising afterwards of all possible infected items is essential. Acquisition of safe protective clothing (eg effective masks) would seem to be vital.

We have also received this guidance about hospital visiting from the Conquest Hospital Chaplain:

At the moment there is no general visiting by Chaplaincy at all either here at the Conquest or in Eastbourne and all Volunteers have been laid off at both sites.

I am sure everyone is also aware that only one relative/friend visitor per patient is allowed at the moment on any Ward.My Chaplain colleagues here and in Eastbourne will visit patients but only in the following circumstances:

  •  If it is actually an end of life situation and the family or ward staff have requested a visit from us
  • If the visit has been authorised by a Ward Sister or more senior person
  • If all necessary protective clothing is available.

I suspect visits from outside clergy to Covid patients may not be permitted at the moment or will be restricted soon. I am not sure but if that is the case then a call or email to me can be made and I should be able to attend. I will certainly try!

With any visit the visitor should report to the Ward Staff before any visit to anyone is made. Advice can then be taken about protective clothing etc.

Our out of hours call out capability is severely restricted but we will do what we can to cover as many call-outs as possible.

I thought that the above might be useful for local clergy. I’m happy to speak to anyone if there are queries. It would be good to continue this conversation before things get worse and maintain it when does get worse.

Please contact Martyn at if you have further insights that might be helpful.