The cold and flu season is underway and with worries about an H1N1 pandemic, local churches are trying to slow the spread of the virus among their parishioners.
At Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Red Deer, the congregation will no longer greet each other by shaking hands during the sign of peace. Only the wafer, known as the body of Christ, will be offered to parishioners during communion, but the chalice will not be used while the H1N1 flu is a concern.
Priests will wash their hands before the service and use hand sanitizer before communion. Holy water fonts will remain empty as a temporary measure and only be filled for baptisms.
“Since last weekend, we made a few changes just to make sure we contribute to trying to maintain a healthy environment for everyone,” said Father Victor Eze, with Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Red Deer. “It is a collective responsibility of everybody to help to prevent the spread of this disease.”
Eze said parishioners have also been asked not to attend mass if they are ill, have a cough or fever.
He said it is the second time the church has moved forward with these precautions. The Catholic church did so for the first time in the spring when the flu virus first became an issue.
At St. Andrew’s United Church in Lacombe, they’ve become creative with the “pass the peace” moment when parishioners normally shake hands to greet one another.
“We’ve been talking about passing the peace without passing the germs,” said Rev. Ross Smillie of St. Andrew’s. So they’ve been encouraging greetings without handshakes.
“Some people did a high five and missed, others did the traditional Buddhist greeting by putting hands in a prayer position and doing a small bow.”
The young people in the congregation came up with a belly bump, something like what football players and other athletes do for encouragement, which involves jumping up and bouncing off each other.
He said it could become a bigger issue this fall, but at the moment they’re trying to keep it lighthearted.
During the flu season, St. Andrew’s has also changed how communion will be offered. The church will no longer be using a common cup for communion, but instead offering individual cups to the congregation.
Tom Ashton, people’s warden with St. Luke’s Anglican Church in Red Deer, said parishioners in the past would often perform intinction, or dipping the bread into the chalice of wine. They have been advised by the bishop to stop this practice because it could be a health hazard. The new minister at the church, Rev. Noel Wygiera, will clean his hands and then will dip the wafer and pass it to each parishioner. Ashton said Wygiera has also encouraged people to greet each other without shaking hands, there are signs up encouraging hand washing and hand sanitizer has been added around the church. Parishioners have been told to stay home if they have flu-like symptoms.
At Gaetz Memorial United Church in Red Deer, Rev. Brenda Kersell said they will do a thorough cleaning each week of all of the toys and children’s spaces in the church. Gaetz Memorial has also put signage in all of the washrooms reminding people to wash their hands and stay home if they are sick.
“We haven’t refrained yet from handshaking, but we do encourage those who are ushering and greeting, like (Rev.) Fran (Hare) and I to use hand sanitizers,” Kersell said. She and her counterpart will also sanitize their hands before each baptism.