As the number of confirmed cases continues to rise, coronavirus fears are beginning to force changes to how churches handle communion.
Has your church made changes because of coronavirus fears? If not, you may want to prepare yourself. Many churches are already changing how they’re handling observations like the Lord’s Supper.
As I write this, health experts recorded more than 100 confirmed cases and nearly a dozen deaths. If your state shows no cases, that, too, likely will change.
So, with a bit of hypochondria-inspired panic and good old-fashioned prevention, there’ll be some changes made.
First, I’m going to refer to the coronavirus hereafter as COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control tells us that’s the specific version of the virus causing the latest panic. The coronavirus has been around for a long time. And it’s important that we note not all strains are the same.
CBS News reported the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, instructed its parishes to stop allowing people to drink “the Precious Blood” from the chalice. It’s not the only one.
The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh suspended the distribution of “the Precious Blood” temporarily. It also plans to clean and drain its Holy Water fonts more often. And it’s urging those who feel sick to stay home until they feel well.
I place Precious Blood in quotes because it’s not blood: it’s wine. But some do believe that in the moment of communion, the wine actually becomes the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. I don’t believe that, but others clearly do.
Likewise, the Episcopal Diocese of California instructed its parishioners to stop dipping the communion bread or wafer into the wine.
The leader of the Episcopal Church in the diocese of Maryland said that practice, known as intinction, poses a risk “especially when the bread is handled with unwashed hands of children and adults.”
I grew up Southern Baptist, and when we took the Lord’s Supper — our term for Communion — we were given individual wafers and individual cups of grape juice. (Most Baptists would faint at the thought of real wine in church…so they keep Welch’s quite happy.) The individual cups certainly help avoid the spread of illness, but reaching into a pan full of wafers could still spread a virus.
But it goes beyond Communion.
Certain churches are also going a step further, urging parishioners to stop shaking hands until the coronavirus fears — make that COVID-19 fears — subside.
Some churches have a set moment called the Exchange of Peace during which church members shake hands and greet each other. Many churches and dioceses say worshippers should “simply bow with respect” or try an elbow bump instead of handshaking.
And clergy everywhere are receiving word that they should stock up on hand sanitizing gels like Purell.
It may seem somewhat unfriendly to walk into a church and not have someone offer a warm handshake. At the same time, it could help stop the spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses like the flu.
I’m just glad that — at least so far — churches aren’t boycotting such safety measures claiming “God will keep them safe no matter what.” I happen to believe that one of the ways God helps keep people safe is through handing out certain amounts of common sense.