Saturday, November 7, 2009

Communion and Swine Flu

The only page I got during my shift was a request for a patient to receive Communion. Since I take calls from home and the hospital pays me for three hours every time I respond to a page, I'm only supposed to come in for deaths, code blues, and crises. I left the Communion request for the daytime chaplain, who is in-house.

I was reading our local news rag online this morning, and saw this article (click for link) about churches tweaking their Communion practices because of the swine flu. I've also heard of churches tweaking their methods of "passing the peace" during worship because of the swine flu (and seasonal flu) outbreak.

Reading this makes me wonder how SJ is handling the swine flu outbreak and this year's early and active flu season. Even in normal times, the congregation at SJ was-in my opinion-paranoid about Communion and germs. They refused to take Communion by intinction to "avoid germs" (instead, we had individual glasses, which drove me up the wall) and insisted that a) I be the only person to touch the bread and b) I make a big deal about sanitizing my hands before touching the bread. Seriously, listening to the conversations at PPR meetings, you'd think people were at risk of getting the Black Plague from Communion.

I'll confess, I tend to be more on the side of "protect yourself, but don't be paranoid" when it comes to contagious illnesses and germs. I receive the flu shot every year, and made sure that Nora and I both received the H1N1 shot this year (since I'm pregnant and she's only 2, we're considered "high risk" so could get it early). I cover my mouth when I cough and my nose when I sneeze, and I wash/sanitize my hands religiously. When I'm sick, I stay home. That sort of thing. However, it never occurred to me to miss church or tweak my normal habits in order to avoid getting sick (and let's be honest; in this case most people are more concerned about themselves getting sick than about infecting others).

Call me insensitive, call me careless, but I'm glad that I'm not serving a church this year because I can see myself inwardly rolling my eyes if my church leaders were to propose suspending Passing of the Peace, Communion, or even severely tweaking it. I know the flu needs to be taken seriously. I know people have died from H1N1, even healthy people. Heck, I'm in just about the highest-risk group there is (did you know that almost a quarter of pregnant women who contact H1N1 have DIED?). However, in my experience thus far, this "flu pandemic" is not a big enough deal for me to make any significant changes to my daily life.

What are your feelings on this issue? How has your congregation responded to the threat of H1N1 and the seasonal flu? How widespread is the flu in your area?


Songbird said...

It's in the schools here, but unlike in your area, the vaccine has not been available. We've made some changes to how we do Communion. Does it really matter how we do it? I guess that's my theological question. As long as we break the bread and pour the cup and share the elements, the rest is logistics. And if people aren't ready to receive the grace given, how we get the bread into their hands/mouths really doesn't make much difference, does it?

Doctor_Eva said...

Number of H1N1 Swine Flu Pandemy cases grows (already more than 30,000 deaths worldwide) and you or one of your family could have this fatal disease. If you want to protect yourself and your family, friends, colleagues -
only Tamiflu is effective now.
Please, send this to all who you know, stop Swine Flu H1N1 epidemy now. Tamiflu (Roche) is an antiviral medication for flu prevention and treatment in adults and children aged 1 year and older.
Tamiflu is recommended for the treatment and/or prevention of infection with swine influenza viruses.

Crimson Rambler said...

We had a Clergy Day on basic epidemiology -- it was of limited value, but did clarify for us the steps or stages that we might anticipate going through if the rate of infection rose.
Our directive was to forbid all intinction (and our people are avid dunkers) so it's the common cup or not-at-all.
And the second directive was to avoid shaking hands at the Peace.
And we have sanitizers EVERYWHERE.
We've abandoned our nice home-made "real" bread in favour of (ech) wafers for the time being too, since real bread tastes vile when it's been broken with sanitized hands (THAT'LL preach, I said to myself).
By and large the faithful are behaving themselves, there are waves and elbow-bumps at the Peace, and they haven't made too much fuss over the chalice.
But the Dragon Queen of the parish blindsided me at the bishop's banquet on Monday because she had been DISENFRANCHISED...which translated into, she had not been in church on the Sunday[s] when the directives were read, and she had Taken Independent Medical Advice not to drink from the common cup, and of course unless you receive both kinds the communion is meaningless...happily I was surrounded by good friends who indicated firmly but politely that they were not impressed by this as a conversational gambit...