Ann Arbor religious leaders to take look at swine flu precautions for congregations
There's hand sanitizer on the altar at Lord of Light Lutheran Church in Ann Arbor.
It's in the area where congregants grab coffee and doughnuts after services.
It’s in the lounges.
“It’s pretty much anywhere you’ll find people,” said Sue Sprowls, campus pastor for the church.
Sprowls has kept the sanitizer out for about four years at the church because, with so many people gathering so closely, illnesses are bound to spread.
With predictions that swine flu pandemic will resurge this fall, the local church is looking into other ways it can reduce the risk of spreading the flu among congregants.
While breaking bread, sharing wine and shaking hands might be a time-honored tradition practiced in different religious services, some local churches plan to take a second look at those practices because of the swine flu, or H1N1, virus.
“It’s pretty much the same kinds of things the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have been saying: wash your hands, cover your cough, stay home if you're sick,” said Donna Nussdorfer, the communicable disease program coordinator for Washtenaw County.
But Nussdorfer plans to discuss alternatives to hand shaking, asking churches to use separate cups for offering holy wine and to diligently clean toys used in children’s programs.
On Wednesday, Sept. 9, First Presbyterian Church is holding a meeting for any representatives from local faith communities to discuss different options they should consider because of the many opportunities to spread the flu.
Many leaders of faith communities often visit members of their congregation who have fallen ill in the hospital, said Rev. Melissa Rogers, the director of pastoral care at the First Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor.
“On Sunday morning, I stand at the sanctuary door and shake 200 hands. Some people embrace me, some kiss me on the cheek the natural tendency in a faith setting is to be warm and embracing,” Rogers said.
The church will encourage congregants to be more diligent about hand-washing and might suggest they change some of their Sunday morning rituals.
“If that means changing our Communion practice, those things are subordinate to keeping our church as safe as possible,” Rogers said.
But there's a balance to keep between the desire to reduce the spread of the flu within a congregation and the desire to remain consistent with religious practices, Sprowl said.
“We went through this in the 1980’s too when everyone was concerned about HIV and not spreading it. This is similar in terms of anxiety,” Sprowls said.
The church uses a community cup for serving blessed wine for Communion and blessed bread, which resembles a large pita, is wrapped in a cloth for individuals to rip off a piece for themselves.
The church likely won’t do away with those practices, but is open to looking at other practices, she said.
“It’s the passing of the peace where the germs really get passed,” Sprowls said of shaking hands with nearby congregants during the service.