In light of the outbreak of Swine flu disease, here are some guidelines from the General Board of Discipleship to assist congregations planning on Holy Communion at this time or for anytime.

Please consider these proactive and prudent steps.

  1. Anticipate that there are a number of people who already have concerns about communicable disease and Holy Communion.
  2. If Swine Flu is present where you are, issue the same advice that New York City and other municipalities are issuing. Get the word out in your congregation that if folks have a sore throat, fever or other flu symptoms, they need to stay at home.
  3. Talk with physicians and other health care workers in your congregation. Let them know you intend to follow the CDC’s recommendations as you lead worship and ask for any input they may have about how you and your worship leaders should do that.
  4. Take this occasion, if you have not already done so, to prepare and serve Holy Communion consistent with the best epidemiological information available. (See Holy Communion and Infection Risks.) Implement these kinds of changes, asking all who handle the elements to thoroughly wash their hands first, including the celebrant and for the celebrant to administer the bread rather than having partakers tear their own piece. This hand washing can be inserted into the communion ritual before serving the elements. (See This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion for more detail.)
  5. Remember that the most likely forms of transmission are by skin to skin contact. This can occur while shaking hands, hugging or passing the peace. Avoiding all forms of touch may be a counterproductive over-reaction where the Swine Flu is not spreading. In places where it is, consider encouraging people to nod their heads, or bow toward one another, or offer other signs of peace and greeting that do not require skin to skin contact.
  6. Consider writing a brief article for the church newsletter or Web site encouraging the CDC recommendations as good practices for worship and daily life, especially during times and in places where flu is spreading.

For more information about hygiene and Holy Communion, visit www.gbod.org/worship/default.asp?act=reader&item_id=7908.