The Passing of the Peace during many worship services in the Great Plains Conference replaced the handshakes with fist bumps, elbow touches, waves, toe taps, peace signs, bows and even a Vulcan salute a la “Star Trek.”
“There’s some concern about the coronavirus, and we don’t necessarily want to be touching each other and spreading that with some people,” the Rev. Chris Jorgensen, pastor of Omaha Hanscom Park United Methodist Church, said in a Facebook video to her congregation. “We don’t have to be touching each other’s hands at this time.”
Many churches in the bistate area are taking further precautions in the wake of the coronavirus scare, as well as a more intense flu season than usual in the Great Plains.
Following directives and suggestions from the Center for Disease Control, some churches have altered the way that communion is served, opting for small individual glasses or foregoing the cup altogether; and offering, with a stationary plate rather than passing it during services.
Pittsburg First UMC has been using individual cups for quite some time, the Rev. Mark Chambers said, with acolytes holding baskets for the used cups. Wafers are handed to individuals with no grabbing allowed.
“It is a gift to receive,” Chambers, the church’s senior pastor, said.
Three stations with hand sanitizer have been set up in the church, Chambers said.
“Common sense is the No. 1 item that is encouraged,” he added.
Goodland UMC is one of several churches where passing the attendance pad has gone away in light of both the coronavirus and flu season.
That is one of several measures spelled out in an email to the church by its pastor, the Rev. Zach Anderson, that also include increased disinfecting and sanitizing the church building.
“I would not lead a public worship service if I believed its participants were at serious risk. Nor would we hold learning opportunities for our children,” Anderson wrote. “I believe the above measures are a proactive step to ensure our safety at the present time.”
Many churches are discouraging their members from attending service if they are not feeling well and encouraging those individuals to view worship over their livestream.
At Hanscom Park, the coronavirus and flu have sparked what Jorgensen calls “G.R.E.A.T. Worship”
“G -- Greet without touching: wave, give a thumbs-up or peace sign, put your hands together and bow to one another instead of shaking hands.
“R -- Remain in pews for the Passing of the Peace. We will greet each other by turning toward the center aisle and saying “Peace be with you! And also with you!” from one side to the other. It will be kind of like chanting De-Fense at a football game. You will love it.
“E -- Exercise your free will! Decide based on your own risk level and concern for others whether you should stay home. (E.g. stay home if you are sick or if you have underlying health conditions.)
“A -- Ample sanitation. There will be ample hand sanitizer at church, especially for communion servers who will sanitize with gusto.
“T -- Take only the bread. We receive a full measure of God’s grace because Christ is fully present in each element of communion. (Also, we won’t have a whole bunch of hands dipping into the same cup.)”
The Rev. Hollie Tapley, disaster response coordinator for the conference, encouraged churches to “stay calm” through the threat of coronavirus.