Are fears about coronavirus affecting metro Atlanta church services?

Some churchgoers are concerned about the coronavirus. CONTRIBUTED BY PIXABAY
Some churchgoers are concerned about the coronavirus. CONTRIBUTED BY PIXABAY

Congregations can take steps to allay concerns over possible outbreak.

A note greeted parishioners at the entrance of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on Peachtree Street on Sunday.

It included a memo from Bishop Joel M. Konzen, the Atlanta archdiocesan administrator, who informed people that because of ongoing concern of the coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) that churches would suspend distribution of the communion wine.

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The move was to “allay fears people have now and demonstrate our concern for the health and safety of our congregations.”

Further, he left it up to individual pastors to decide whether or not to suspend the exchange of peace, which usually involves people hugging or shaking hands.

“Please encourage your communities during the time of uncertainty to prepare, but not panic.”

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Health officials in Georgia and across the globe are worried about the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has resulted in nearly 3,000 deaths worldwide. Overall, there have been more than 8,000 reported cases.

There were 70 confirmed cases in the United States as of Sunday, but  so far none in Georgia. The first death  in the United States was reported Saturday in Washington state.

This letter in reference to coronavirus was posted on the doors to the entrance of Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a Catholic Church on Peachtree Street, on Sunday, March 1, 2020. The letter was also read to the congregation and applies to all parishes in the Atlanta archdiocese. (Photo: Ligaya Figueras/AJC)
This letter in reference to coronavirus was posted on the doors to the entrance of Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a Catholic Church on Peachtree Street, on Sunday, March 1, 2020. The letter was also read to the congregation and applies to all parishes in the Atlanta archdiocese. (Photo: Ligaya Figueras/AJC)

Many Christian churches distribute the the sacrament of communion to their congregations once a month or quarterly. Some churches use individual communion cups that include the wafer and juice.

Others, such as Catholics, offer communion from a shared cup every Sunday.

Sacred Heart’s note also said that the church has been taking precautions for a while.

The Rev. Monsignor Edward Thein also suggested additional precautions, including refraining from dipping one’s hand in the holy water,  receiving the host wafer or bread on the tongue if a person is showing signs of a cold and not attending Mass if suffering severe symptoms. There also are Purell hand sanitizer containers at the church doors.

Don Plummer, the spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, said the church is advising people to stay home if they are sick and if they take communion to use hand sanitizer.

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The diocese has also suggested that churches suspend taking communion by intinction, which is dipping the bread into the wine during the Eucharist so both are taken at the same time.

Communion is usually given at every Sunday service and at most major services during the week such as funerals, baptisms, wedding and funerals.

New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Stonecrest has modified its service to suspend its “greet your neighbor” fellowship moment.

The church will host a special service at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday  to educate members and the community about the virus.

In 2018 during a particularly bad flu season, some Catholic churches suggested their parishioners stay home if they had the flu.

Then Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory wrote a letter that was shared with local Catholic churches and parishioners.

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“At this point, anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms should be advised not to attend Sunday Mass (or other parish activities), partake from the chalice or participate in the exchange of the Sign of Peace. The possibility of infection with influenza represents a sufficient reason not to attend Sunday Mass, and obviates the Sunday obligation.”

AJC staff writer Ligaya Figueras contributed to this article.

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