Spreading faith, not flu

| September 21, 2009

TUSCALOOSA | As schools take precautions for the flu season and try to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus, so do some local churches.

“I’ve sent out a letter to encourage [parishioners] to stay at home if they are sick, that it’s not sinful to miss Mass,” said the Rev. Gerald Holloway, priest at St. Francis of Assisi University Parish.

Instead of shaking hands during the passing of the peace, parishioners are encourage to simply say “peace be with you” and skip the handshaking, Holloway suggested. And if someone feels like they have a cold, he asks that they take the sacrament — bread or wafer — during communion, but not drink from the cup.

“I also gave them some ideas to practice basic respiratory etiquette,” Holloway said.

Some religious practices could make it easy to spread the H1N1 virus, also known as the flu, or other viruses. In some denominations, including the Catholic Church and the Episcopalian Church, members take communion from a common cup. Worshippers often drink from the same cup, which is wiped before the next person drinks from it.

In many churches, it is common to greet one another by shaking hands.

And in the Jewish faith, congregants pass the Torah, either kissing it or touching their prayer shawls to it.

In response to swine flu fears, the archbishops of Canterbury and York in the Anglican Church have recommended churches stop sharing the chalice at communion, according to the Church of England.

Canterbury Episcopal Chapel, part of the Anglican communion, also has a shared cup and bread during the Eucharist. That part of the ritual won’t change, for now. But, there will be sanitizer at the chapel door, said Genevieve Turkett, administrator of the student center at Canterbury.

“We are putting hand sanitizer out — that is our biggest thing,” Turkett said.

At First Presbyterian Church in Tuscaloosa, members usually greet each other and shake hands, something that hasn’t changed.

“But we are offering hand sanitizer, like most everybody else,” said Charlie Durham, minister.

Instead of having a shared cup or bread, it is traditional for First Presbyterian to have individual cups and individual cubes of bread during communion, avoiding the spread of germs that way, Durham said.

While some churches are stocking up on sanitizer, others are waiting to see what happens as flu season gets closer.

“We are certainly aware of the situation, and if it turns out that we need to take some actions, we know what we need to do,” said Frank Roth, rector at St. Matthias Episcopal Church. “I think a lot of what needs to be done is to make sure those that are ill are able to stay home.”

The Rev. Jerry Deasy at Holy Spirit Catholic Church is also taking a wait and see approach.

“We haven’t done anything yet,” Deasy said. “At this point we don’t have a plan.”

While some Jewish worshipers kiss the Torah, the local tradition is more focused on touching the Torah with a prayer shawl rather than kissing it, said Rabbi Steve Jacobs of the Temple Emanuel in Tuscaloosa. No changes have been made in worship in regards to the flu, Jacobs said.



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Category: Public Health

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