Churches, synagogues change rituals as precaution
Amid concern over coronavirus, the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, which represents some 118 Catholic parishes in the state, late Wednesday set out a new list of 20 directives to be acted on immediately. Among them:
Drain the holy water
Suspend the exchange ● of the sign of peace, which involves clasping hands
Suspend the distribution
● of the Precious Blood during Holy Communion.
In other words, no more sipping from the communal chalice. The list was issued by Archbishop Joseph Naumann.
At a Protestant church, shaking hands in peace is also out. They’re flashing the 1960s peace sign or touching elbows.
At another, the Eucharistic wine (actually grape juice) and bread — once hand-broken into bitesized chunks — is set in individually wrapped peelaway plastic containers. Greeters are wearing gloves. Hand sanitizer is being bought in volume.
“We communicated with our congregation on Friday and basically asked them, please don’t come if you’re sick,” said Cathy Bien, senior director of communications for the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, which expects to soon find more parishioners live-steaming their services from home. The church, the largest Methodist church in the United States, has several locations around the metro.
“Our greeters are no longer shaking hands,” Bien said, “which is hard. But they are opening doors.”
More than that: Communion is being suspended through Easter. Ushers will no longer be passing offering plates, but encouraging people to give electronically or to drop donations in a basket. Ushers will be wearing gloves.
“We would prefer that no guest has to touch a door,” ushers were told in an email.
Mayor Quinton Lucas’ announced Thursday morning that he had issued a 21-day emergency declaration, canceling all events with more than 1,000 attendees. It would apply to religious institutions with gatherings of more than 1,000 people, but they could still meet with fewer attendees.
Throughout the Kansas City area, hundreds of churches, synagogues and mosques are now figuring out exactly how to alter their rituals of faith in the face of what the World Health Organization on Wednesday officially declared to be a growing and worldwide coronovirus or COVID-19 pandemic.
Or whether to alter them at all.
Abduwahab Ibrahim, a member of the board of the Masjidu Nuur Islamic Center, which contains a mosque in Kansas City, said on Wednesday they currently have no plan to alter their communal practices.
“You’re going to die one day anyhow, right?” Ibrahim said. “If Allah plans for you to die from the coronavirus, you’re going to die from the coronavirus. That’s God’s plan even before you were born.”
Muslims pray five times a day, lining alongside one another in rows. Washing hands is already part of the normal practice before prayer, Ibrahim said. Touching members of the community in greeting or friendship is also common, but unlikely to be lessened, he said. They have no plan to increase the use of hand sanitizer.
“We greet each other, we shake hands, we hug each other. That’s normal for us, everyday,” Ibrahim said. “We still do that. That is just our routine. When the brothers get together, we shake hands.”
Fridays, he said, are often high-volume times as some 200 men and women engage in separate prayer. “It is packed,” he said.
But the mosque leadership at this time plans to make no fundamental changes in light of the spread of the contagion.
“We can’t avoid each
other. We just depend on God,” he said. “If it is going to affect you, you can’t stop it no matter where you go.”
At St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, 101 E. 52 nd St ., new corona virus precaution cards have been placed in every pew offering a prayer:
“Jesus Christ, you traveled through towns and villages ‘curing every disease and illness.’ At your command, the sick were made well.
“Come to our aid now, in the midst of the global spread of the coronavirus, that we may experience your healing love. Heal those who are sick with the virus . . . . Heal us from our fear . . . . Heal us from our pride, which can make us claim invulnerability to a disease that knows no borders.”
The card spells out the parish’s own protocols to reduce contact, such as no longer shaking hands when sharing the sign of peace. The card also spells out:
Refrain from holding
● hands during the Our Father.
Bow or nod during the ●
Sign of Peace.
Distribute Communion ● only in the hand, not on the tongue.
Remember: Jesus is
● fully present in both species — the Body and Blood. It is not necessary to receive from the cup. Please do NOT receive from the cup if you are ill.
As of early Thursday morning, the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, of which St. Francis Xavier is part, was still offering congregants the option of whether to sip from the communal chalice, the rim of which is wiped with a white cloth between sips by individual churchgoers.
On Wednesday, the staff of St. Francis decided that despite the declaration on their pew cards, they are stopping the practice of sipping from the chalice for now.
“At our staff meeting today, we decided to suspend the common chalice because people often don’t know that they’re infected, not just with the coronavirus, but with any virus” Sue Robb, the parish’s pastoral associate for justice and life, said in an email to The Star. “Since we’re an older population and since it has been classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization today, we are erring on the side of caution. We are also taking the water out of the holy water fonts. We may use sand, we may keep them dry. Haven’t decided.”
On the Kansas side of the metropolitan area, the list sent out Wednesday by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas was extensive.
Among its other directives: clergy to avoid shaking hands before or after mass; reinforced hand sanitation for those distributing communion; no touching those in the communion line who do not receive; no hand-holding during the Lord’s Prayer; greeters to avoid handshakes; avoid all physical contact; regular sanitation of pews, hymnals, vessels, door handles and restrooms; hand sanitizer at all entrances; no offertory gift procession; collections that limit the number of hands touching the collection basket; ask the faithful to not attend Mass if they feel sick.
At the New Reform Temple of Kansas City, 7100 Main St., Senior Rabbi Alan Londy was absolute. “We are taking this very seriously,” he said.
“We’re very concerned about it. The leaders and I are in constant discussion.”
They are taking the precautions. At the synagogue on Friday nights, prior to receiving a prayer book, all congregants must sanitize their hands. Gloves are being worn by those handling food. They are recommending no handshaking, hugging or kissing in greeting.
“We’re not doing it. I’m not doing it,” Londy said, adding that the precautions are for all. “I’m not going to put the congregation at risk. I’m not going to put myself at risk.”
Congregational leaders are already discussing the future, how to deliver care if or when members become ill or self-quarantine. The topic of livesteaming services has already been raised.
“If we have to do something more extreme, we will do it,” Londy said. “If the government tells us not to meet, we will not meet. But we are not going to take any risks.”
He is concerned that the United States may already be a bit behind in how it is preparing for the possibility of a more widespread outbreak.
“God only knows what it will be like in a week,” he said.
GOD ONLY KNOWS WHAT IT WILL BE LIKE IN A WEEK. Rabbi Alan Londy, the New Reform Temple of Kansas City