|In battle of germs, Jesus wins
Churches are taking common sense precautions to stop the spread of flu
while still participating in the sacraments. Worshippers at the 2006
United Methodist Women’s Assembly share communion in the photo above. A
UMNS file photo by Paul Jeffrey.
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Oct. 20, 2009 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
Be not afraid. Jesus is more powerful than germs.
That’s the advice from The United Methodist Church’s agency charged
with providing leadership and resources to local churches in the face
of the country’s concern over the H1N1 flu virus.
“Do celebrate worship and the sacraments fully and be not afraid,” said
Taylor Burton-Edwards, director of worship resources for the United Methodist Board of Discipleship. “Use common sense, but remember this: Jesus is more powerful than germs!”
Methodist churches across the country are not letting the threat of
H1N1,or “swine flu,” shut their doors. They are in some cases arming
themselves with bottles of sanitizers, doing hand waves instead of
handshakes and celebrating Holy Communion with a little more caution
But the liturgy goes on.
North Scottsdale (Ariz.) United Methodist Church put it this way:
“Certainly the conclusion we come to should not be that being together
is dangerous or that communion should be suspended. The conclusion
should be that God calls us together to be the body of Christ around
word and table and that we can do so with confidence that we will taste
and see the goodness of the Lord.”
The Board of Discipleship’s Web site offers a list of dos and don’ts to
combat spreading the flu in church. The most important message is to
show reasonable concern, but not to confuse “appropriate concern for
over-reactive panic. Rejoice and fear not!”
Precautions on the list include making hand sanitizer available for all
worshippers and having people wash their hands before touching food
that will be shared. If the flu is spreading in the congregation’s
area, the agency suggests exchanging the peace and greeting others in
ways that do not require skin-to-skin contact.
The official United Methodist ritual is to receive the bread rather
than taking it from servers who have washed their hands, Burton-Edwards
said. If using intinction, let the server who breaks the bread also dip
the bread in the cup. “This reduces the number of touches during
serving and entirely eliminates the need for those receiving to place
their bread, and perhaps their fingers, into the cup.
“Keep in mind that clinical studies have shown that communion itself poses very low risk for spreading disease,” he said.
University United Methodist Church in San Antonio, Texas, has been
taking extra precautions since last spring when news about H1N1 first
surfaced. Encouraging the use of hand sanitizers and thoroughly
cleaning up all surfaces such as doorknobs and light switches has
become part of the church’s “psyche” said Shauna Forkenbrock, director
Worshippers can opt for pre-packaged elements during Holy Communion,
she said. “A lot of people are doing that--better to be safe than
Louisiana Bishop William W. Hutchinson said lay and clergy serving
communion should “visibly” clean their hands. He said hand washing
could be incorporated during the act of confession as a liturgical
Bernardsville (N.J.) United Methodist Church is serving communion with individual cups and pre-sliced bread and puts tissues in the pews.
Peace of mind
The Rev. Vic Nixon, senior pastor of Pulaski Heights United Methodist
Church in Little Rock, Ark., assured worshippers on a recent Sunday
that they could forgo physical contact when they pass the peace.
The Arkansas Conference is offering United Methodist hand sanitizers to keep members healthy during the
flu season. A UMNS photo by Patrick W. Shownes.
“[I told them] You don’t actually have to shake hands or touch each
other,” Nixon said. “And I told them we have hand sanitizers throughout
The primary ways the virus spreads is by airborne particles from coughs
or sneezes and by skin-to-skin contact with someone who is infected,
according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The
center reports that influenza activity is widespread in 41 states.
Flu-related hospitalizations and deaths are also higher than expected
for this time of year.
Church leaders can play an important role in promoting awareness, said
Chaplain John Wilcher, the director of clergy and conference ministries
at Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare in Memphis. He hopes pastors will
stress the need for people to get shots for both the seasonal flu and
Show Christian love
In the midst of all the precautions, the United Methodist West Ohio
Annual (regional) Conference reminds members they are the “hands and
feet of Christ and difficult times provide us the opportunity to
brightly shine our light of Christian love and caring.”
The conference encouraged churches to consider ways to support
low-income workers in their community who are sick and staying home
from work. “Many workers risk losing their wages or don’t have adequate
However, anyone feeling ill should stay home, according to the Web
site. “Not exposing others may be your greatest act of love today.”
Clergy are encouraging their flocks to wash their hands often and are
keeping ample supplies of hand sanitizers in restrooms, at all
entrances and even at some communion rails.
The Rev. Chris Cooper, Cornerstone United Methodist Church, Jonesboro,
Ark., who recently had some family members sick with the flu, passes a
bottle of hand sanitizer around to communion servers.
Mixing a little advice with humor, he said, “Take this in remembrance of your neighbor.”
*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in
Nashville, Tenn. Information for this report came from United Methodist
conference and Board of Discipleship web sites.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
Swine Flu 2009- A faith based response
Churches take healthy interest in fighting the spread of H1N1
H1N1, Worship and Holy Communion
Compassion, caution urged in response to swine flu
United Methodist Board of Discipleship: H1N1 Virus
United Methodist Committee on Relief
H1N1 Flu: A Guide For Community and Faith-Based Organizations
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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