The 'fist bump' of peace? Congregations being cautious about potential spread of flu
nHow much personal interaction, in the form of handshakes among congregants and between guests and staff, is a good thing? BY DAVID O'CONNOR, Staff Writer
You want to take precautions and reassure your congregation that you're "taking every step" to guard people against catching the flu, one local pastor said.
But, at the same time, you "have to remember that if they leave our church feeling unwelcome, that might be the last time they ever set foot in our church," as another Lancaster church leader put it.
With the much-publicized spread of the flu catching people's attention in this traditional cold-and-flu season, Lancaster County churches, synagogues and other houses of worship are facing a question:
How much personal interaction, in the form of handshakes among congregants and between guests and staff, is a good thing?
Some churches have placed announcements in their bulletins or on their Web pages, urging people to refrain from shaking hands if they're worried about getting sick.
And some have emphasized where the hand sanitizers are located in their facilities.
A simple smile and nod to someone, or a fist bump or elbow bump, will suffice at this time of year, some are saying.
Other churches, meanwhile, aren't singling out the issue for discussion, instead letting their visitors use their common sense on how to avoid catching a bug.
"How would someone feel if they came to our church for the first time, and instead of shaking their hand, we gave them a Handi Wipe?" asked Jose Tirado, a lay leader at Lancaster's El Redentor and St. Paul's United Methodist Church.
"It wouldn't be too welcoming."
Tirado said church Pastor Brunilda Martinez and other staff members feel as though "we need to put ourselves out there for people."
They use good sense, he added, but not at the expense of being unfriendly. "We can't sit there and brood about what might happen," he said.
At Calvary Church in Manheim Township, one of the county's largest houses of worship, leaders have agreed to "let people do what they're comfortable doing. We didn't want to limit people," says Beau Eckert, Calvary's senior pastor.
They also have a statement they keep in mind each week, he said: " 'Every Sunday is somebody's first Sunday at Calvary,' and I don't want somebody's first Sunday to be off-putting.
"The last thing we want to do, because of concern about the flu, is make someone feel unwelcome."
At St. Mary's Catholic Church in downtown Lancaster, "we're just encouraging people to use common sense," the Rev. Leo Goodman said.
During greeting times at the six campuses of the church LCBC, Lives Changed By Christ, visitors are encouraged to "tell your name to two or three people around you and make them feel welcome," said John Zeswitz, LCBC's executive director of ministries.
"We leave it up to people every weekend as to whether they use a nod, a fist bump or a handshake. I've experienced folks who do any of those three on any given weekend," Zeswitz said.
At St. John's Episcopal Church in downtown Lancaster, individuals administering the weekly Communion are consciously and frequently using hand sanitizer. Among other alterations for flu season, congregants are being told they can receive the bread only during Communion, and also that they can greet others warmly without shaking hands, said the Rev. Jennifer Looker, the assistant church rector.
People getting sick "definitely can be an issue of concern, so we want to reassure our congregation that we're taking every step to help keep everyone healthy," she added.
"How would someone feel if they came to our church for the first time, and instead of shaking their hand, we gave them a Handi Wipe?"