“It is our hope that by preparing for the possibility of an influenza pandemic, the Episcopal community will be better able to protect each other and serve those in need,” said Abigail Nelson, senior vice president for New York-based Episcopal Relief and Development in a statement.
The Episcopal Diocese of Texas, which could be heavily impacted by the state’s large border with Mexico, is handing out an information sheet to all parishioners Sunday on specific swine flu precautions.
Other churches in Texas are taking careful measures, such as University United Methodist Church in San Antonio. The church has ordered individually wrapped wafers and sealed juice containers to limit potential contamination through the serving of communion.
Throughout the United Methodist Southwest Texas Conference, Bishop Jim Dorff is urging practical tactics congregants can use to avoid contracting the flu during worship services.
“I think it is always a good idea to be proactive in times like these where there is much unknown. Now is not the time to panic, however we need to be prepared to deal with the swine flu issues that are affecting our state and our conference,” Dorff said in an e-mail to local pastors.
Included were the following recommendations:
- Prioritize non-essential meetings and gatherings. Consult with lay leadership and reschedule as appropriate
- Follow county and city health officials recommendations
- Mothers Day Out and church nursery should follow the direction of local school districts
- Worship – Pastors along with lay leadership should use their judgment and keep in mind the most vulnerable (children and elderly) when deciding to hold regular Sunday worship
One company seeing direct impact from church concerns is E-Church Depot. The Camp Hill Pa., company has seen orders spike in the last 24 hours for a combination sealed communion wafer and juice cup as churches look for ways to play it safe.
“Overnight (between Wednesday and Thursday) we have seen an uptick in demand,” said Ken Paton, president of E-Church Depot. “It’s been very popular with churches because of the convenience factor. I was just across the street at our warehouse and our people were busy filling rush orders.”
Similarly the Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio is not taking any chances. Archbishop Jose Gomez sent a letter to parishes encouraging changes in the distribution of communion, including no sharing of wine from a chalice, no hand-holding during the Lord’s Prayer or sharing of the peace and recommending to parishioners to stay home if they feel flu-like symptoms.
“While this is a time for prudence and reasonable concern, it is not a time for panic,” Gomez wrote.
In Chicago, which has one of the largest and ethnically diverse Catholic populations in the nation, precautions are more limited.
“While there are no plans at this point in the Archdiocese of Chicago to suspend or change either the Rite of Peace or Holy Communion from the Chalice, all Catholics should exercise prudence while participating in the celebration of the Eucharist,” the archdiocese said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
According to the Associated Press, In Miami and Austin, Texas, Roman Catholic officials have cut off serving communion wine, and many others are considering doing the same. In the Diocese of Dallas, officials are assuring parishioners that “it’s not a sin” to miss Mass if you’re sick.
The Louisville, Ky.-based Presbyterian Church of America did not specifically limit communion or physical contact.
“Presbyteries and congregations have an opportunity for a ‘teachable moment’ about how to prepare for and respond to widespread contagious diseases,” the church wrote in a letter to church officials and members on its Web site.
Precautions included seating worshippers in alternating rows and having facemasks and hand sanitizer readily available for people who might want it.
Just north of Louisville the South Indiana United Methodist Conference had not made specific directives to congregations, but individual churches were taking precautions.
Sanitizer will be passed through the aisles and the swine flu will be addressed to congregants at a suburban Indianapolis church.
“It will be addressed before the congregation that yes, this is real and yes, we are concerned,” said Cody Scholmer, parish nurse at The Promise UMC and care coordination team leader at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. “We don’t want to stop reaching out to one another with love and affection, especially if we can accommodate what we need to with other precautions.”
International aid organizations are also taking measures to safeguard their staffs from the spread of the swine flu.
World Vision is closing its Mexico City office until May 5 and giving out face masks to all its staff members in its office. It is also closely monitoring local children it serves for any symptoms of the disease.
Baltimore-based World Relief is cautioning staff travelling by air to be cautious in covering up their mouths when coughing and being thorough about hand-washing, according to Jan Kary, senior vice president of marketing and development.
Episcopal Diocese of Texas brochure: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/documents/swine_flu_pew_sheet.pdf
E-Church Depot: http://www.echurchdepot.com/
United Methodist Church Southwest Texas Conference: http://www.umcswtx.org/
The Archdiocese of San Antonio: http://www.archdiosa.org/
The Archdiocese of Chicago: http://www.archdiocese-chgo.org/
Presbyterian Church swine flu guidelines: http://www.pcusa.org/pda/pdf/respondingtoswineflu.pdf
South Indiana United Methodist Conference:
Centers for Disease Control swine flu prevention tips: http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/swineflu_you.htm