A Faith-Based Response To Infectious Diseases
March 4, 2020
In light of growing concerns regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas invites clergy, lay leaders, and congregations to commit to standard hygiene practices, to consider reasonable liturgical adjustments, to contact public health officials in your community for local conditions, and to extend care and compassion to those in your congregations and communities who may be affected by the disease as well as healthcare workers.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness, similar to the flu, with symptoms including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If you experience these symptoms, contact your health care provider and please stay home to prevent the potential spread of the disease. The best way to prevent infection is to take simple, everyday actions that prevent the spread of respiratory viruses.
It is important to maintain perspective when discussing basic disease prevention measures, recommended for faith-based organizations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year during flu season. The situation does not currently warrant cancelling worship services or closing church schools. However, clergy and lay leaders should actively collaborate with local health department regarding how and when such decisions might be made. Below are general recommendations, from the CDC and Episcopal Relief and Development, to minimize the spread of any infectious disease.
Please feel free to share these resources with anyone who may have concerns or questions.
Personal Precautions to Minimize the Spread of Germs
- Wash your hands, often, with soap and water for 20 seconds taking care to scrub the backs of your hands, wrists, and in between fingers. Sing the Happy Birthday song twice or pray the Lord's Prayer once to measure the correct amount of time.
- Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then dispose of the tissue immediately, or cough into your elbow.
- Disinfect "high-traffic" surfaces, including door handles, light switches, bathroom faucets and doors, computer keyboards, phones, childcare areas, counter tops, and other shared spaces.
Liturgical Precautions to Minimize the Spread of Germs
- Passing of the Peace - invite congregants who may feel uncomfortable to share the peace of Christ with a wave, a smile, a bow, the peace sign, and other alternatives to a handshake or embrace.
- Eucharist - encourage parishioners to drink from the chalice during Eucharist, rather than intincting.
Scientific studies have shown that when Eucharistic Ministers observe proper safeguards, including hand washing prior to administering the elements, wiping the interior and exterior of the chalice with a clean portion of the purificator, and turning the chalice in between communicants, drinking from the common cup presents a much lower risk of spreading germs than intinction, which often results in fingers entering the wine or touching the interior of the chalice. Reassure anyone with lingering concerns that receiving the Sacrament "in one-kind" is a full Communion, and that they may receive the bread then acknowledge the Cup with a bow as it passes.
- Prayers of the People - consider adding prayers for healthcare workers or the critically ill to your weekly intercessions.
As the situation continues to unfold, clergy and church leaders should contact local public health officials in your own communities to help determine whether it's necessary to cancel or postpone events, worship services, school days, or childcare sessions. Consider ahead of time ways to share worship experiences with church members who may need to stay home to care for a sick family member or to minimize their own exposure to potential infection, including publishing the weekly readings, recording or live-streaming worship, and reaching out to members who may have missed a few weeks at church.
Public Health Resources
- Faith-Based Response to Infectious Disease - Episcopal Relief and Development has gathered scientific information, print resources, and liturgical resources to support church leaders and congregations.
- Preparing for the Flu: A Communication Toolkit for Faith-based Organizations - an extensive guide for illness prevention, preparedness, and communications created by the CDC in response to flu prevention; the information is applicable to coronavirus preparedness as well.
- Coronavirus: Safety Tips for Religious Organizations - a Risk Management Tip Sheet published by Church Pension Group (CPG), summarizing guidelines from Episcopal Relief and Development and the CDC.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 Information - the CDC resources include a variety of articles, downloadable guides, and hand outs, available in English and Spanish, to help prevent the spread of disease and misinformation.
- Directory of Local Health Departments - the National Association of County and City Health Officials maintains a list of contact information for local health departments; enter your zip-code or city to find the ones nearest you.