Communion – the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper – is one of the central sacraments of the Christian faith. As such, denominations vary in their beliefs about how the rite should be performed.
As the number of cases of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 continues to rise in the United States, many churches – especially those whose members may include vulnerable populations – have begun to address the way in which they take Communion in order to limit the spread of the disease. Most of the population is at low risk for the disease, however, health experts warn that the elderly and people with underlying chronic medical conditions are at a higher risk.
While the bread and the cup should never be taken lightly, now may be a good time for churches to prayerfully consider temporary, creative approaches to Communion for the sake of their congregation’s health and safety.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the primary way COVID-19 is spread is through respiratory droplets. These droplets are most often produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes but also can spread when an individual drinks out of the same container as an infected person.
For churches who partake in Communion using a communal cup, or by placing a wafer directly into congregants’ hands or mouths, the risk of spreading COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses is elevated, compared to congregations who pass out elements individually.
While the sanctity of Communion should always be a priority, some churches have turned to alternative means of passing out the elements in order to avoid spreading germs.
One option involves the use of prefilled communion cups that are individually sealed with juice and a wafer.
For churches who elect to use wine rather than juice, passing out individual communion cups and wafers on trays can still be a healthier option than using a communal cup and passing the bread or wafers out by hand.
Regardless of whether you alter your approach or not, educating your staff and volunteers who help with Communion is key. Remind them if they feel ill, have a fever or cough, or have been in contact with someone who has had the virus, they should not help with Communion at this service. And before assisting with Communion, staff and volunteers should wash their hands or use hand sanitizer (at least 65% alcohol).
Any church that considers even temporarily altering their Communion practice should do so with prayer and careful discernment.
In a time of heightened fear surrounding COVID-19 in our country, it’s crucial for churches not to be alarmist.
Thom S. Rainer, founder and CEO of Church Answers, encourages local churches to “Focus on prayer instead of panic… Encourage [your congregation] to pray for the cessation of the disease. Ask them to pray for the victims and their families. Encourage them to pray for the gospel to go forth boldly in the midst of this trial.”1
However, churches are not powerless in their ability to limit the spread of this virus in their communities. Considering creative approaches to Communion can have a significant impact on your congregation’s health and safety.
1 Rainer, T. S. (March 2, 2020). Coronavirus and Your Church. Thom S. Rainer. https://thomrainer.com/2020/03/coronavirus-and-your-church/?utm_source=ThomRainer.com%20Subscribers&utm_campaign=aae535cd78-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_07_29_2019_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_00de77e553-aae535cd78-82181425
CDC Vulnerable Populations: https://www.cdc.gov/cpr/whatwedo/00_docs/Issue_Brief_Vulnerable_pops.pdf
Pre-filled Communion Cups: https://www.kingdom.com/fellowship-cup-prefilled-communion-cups.html
Posted March 11, 2020
The information provided in this article is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.
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