Churches consider precautions against swine flu

| October 3, 2009

ALBANY — Eucharistic ministers at St. James Roman Catholic Church this Sunday will clean their hands with anti-bacterial lotion before distributing Communion.

Over at Christ Church United Methodist in Troy, hand sanitizers will be installed. The Rev. Nina Nichols plans to hand out Communion herself.

These small actions are part of growing awareness around the country and across denominations that congregation members are worried about the spread of H1N1 or swine flu through casual contact during religious services.

"The Prayer and Worship Committee brought it to our attention. If they care about it, that’s a good justification to do something,” said Dorothy A. Sokol, parish life director at St. James on Delaware Avenue in Albany.

The congregation at Christ Church on State Street in Troy, also discussed what actions to take. Nichols said people did not want to give up parts of the liturgy.

"There is a resistance of stopping the passing of the Peace,” Nichols said, referring to the part of a service where people extend a greeting often by shaking hands.

The federal Centers for Disease Control has added a "Community and Faith-Based Organization Guide" at its Web site,, to provide information to churches about preventative steps and how to deal with the illness.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also has posted information for parishes and dioceses on its Web site at

The Albany Roman Catholic Diocese links to the USCCB Web site. Ken Goldfarb, a diocesan spokesman, said a determination will be made if additional measures should be taken.

In many cases, church leaders advise their congregants to act responsibly in handling questions about the flu and have not eliminated shaking hands as a greeting of peace or the way communion — in wafer or wine form — is shared.

"We just tell people to use common sense,” said the Rev. William Pape, rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany.

Churches should prepare to handle the swine flu or any potential disaster, said the Rev. Bill Elwell, a disaster response coordinator for the Troy Conference of the United Methodist Church.

At the Bristol Federated and Monkton Friends Church in Vermont where Elwell is pastor, arrangements for a phone tree and responding to members’ needs are under way.


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Category: Church Security

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