Worship Practices for Flu Season


With flu season in full swing and the highest number of cases reported in the U.S. since the Centers for Disease Control began keeping records 13 years ago, churches here and across the nation are modifying worship practices to guard against spreading the disease. 

According to the CDC, the contagious respiratory illness is caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. 

Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. The droplets can land on people nearby. The strain involved in the current outbreak  is believed to be spread by skin-to-skin contact or touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it.

Here are some suggestions from UMC Discipleship Ministries Worship website and other sources, for limiting the chances of spreading flu in churches:

What to Do:

  1. Ask the congregation to pass the peace and greet others without skin to skin contact. 
    The major ways people catch this flu are through skin to skin contact and through airborne particles (coughs and sneezes).
  2. Remind ushers and greeters to hold doors open for people to limit spread of virus on public surfaces.
  3. Wash your hands before you touch food you will share with others. 
    This simple directive has long been practiced in most cultures and has an honored place in historical Christian worship as well in the use of the lavabo, a basin for Communion presiders and servers to wash hands. If having water present is problematic or awkward, the CDC recommends using hand sanitizer containing alcohol. 
  4. Receive the bread from servers who have washed their hands.
    This has actually been the instruction in every official ritual the United Methodist Church and its predecessor denominations have published. We all receive from others, rather than taking the bread for ourselves. 
  5. If you use intinction, have those serving the cup tilt it slightly toward those receiving so no one needs to dip their fingers into the juice/wine to receive.
    This takes a bit of skill. Practice with your servers beforehand if they have not done this before, using water in the cup. Then wash the cups and get ready to celebrate!

What Not to Do:

  1. Do not come to worship if you are sick with something you can easily spread to others.
    That applies to pastors, worship leaders, and participants in the congregation. There are no special "Brownie Points" awarded for showing up at worship, work, or anywhere else when you can spread can spread what you have. Stay home. Take care of yourself. And get well. Then come to worship and thank God for helping you recover.
  2. If you are well and able to come to worship, do not fear germs more than you love Jesus!
    Unless your own immune system is seriously compromised, don't bother with facemasks, latex gloves, or other medical paraphernalia that give the impression that worship may be an unsafe place to be or that the elements of blessed bread and wine we share may be more physically dangerous than holy. If your immune system is seriously compromised, consider staying home and letting others extend the Lord's Table to you. 
  3. Do not cough or sneeze on others if you do come. 
    If you have a cough or are likely to sneeze, practice making it a habit to grab a tissue and cover your mouth each time. Then, if you're in an area where an infectious disease is spreading rapidly, excuse yourself to wash your hands at the earliest convenient time. Remember, it is airborne particles (from coughing and sneezing) and skin to skin contact (if you have these particles on your hand) that are by far the most likely means to transmit flu and other infectious agents.
  4. Do not use little disposable cups or disposable "all-in-one" packages of elements for Communion (pop-top Jesus?), thinking these might be safer.
    They aren't safer. It's not just what's inside that's the problem. It's what's outside -- the cups or sets themselves and all the people who will inevitably have touched these things without washing their hands before you do. Neither the containers themselves nor the outside of these containers can be kept sterile. 
  5. Be not afraid!
    This bears repeating. When we gather for worship, we are there to offer ourselves in praise, thanksgiving, and joy to our God, in songs, prayers, dance, art, music, drama, and with water, Scripture, bread and wine. The perfect love of God who meets us here casts out all fear.