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Local churches institute changes to worship services in response to virus concerns

From handshakes to Holy Communion, area churches are also making changes in response to concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus.

For many churches, passing the peace will no longer include handshakes or hugs.

At St. Mary Basilica, exchanging the sign of peace during mass will be offered without any physical contact, the Rev. Scott Thomas said Wednesday.

Earlier this month, Bishop Joseph Kopacz wrote a letter to all parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Jackson requesting several temporary changes for all services.

Instead of handshakes, parishioners are encouraged to bow or nod to persons nearby during the exchange of peace.

“I told many of our parishioners, if someone doesn’t want to shake your hands, to not take it personally,” Thomas said.

Thomas said even though congregants have been asked to refrain from physical contact, Thomas encourages people to smile and be courteous to folks.

“We should not let fear become an excuse for being rude,” Thomas said.

Both Jefferson Street United Methodist Church and Trinity Episcopal Church have decided to suspend passing the peace at their services.

“We are encouraging no handshakes,” the Rev. Bill Barksdale said.

Barksdale, who is the minister at Jefferson Street UMC, said not offering the peace and including handshakes may take some getting used to but is necessary.

“We are pleading for everyone to not be mad at the preacher for not shaking hands,” Barksdale said.

In addition to service changes, Barksdale said the church is providing hand sanitizers at all four entrances of the church.

St. Mary Basilica and Trinity Church have also instituted changes to Holy Communion at their churches.

During mass, St. Mary Basilica has temporarily discontinued sharing the chalice during Holy Communion.

“That is so nobody is drinking after one another,” the Rev. Scott Thomas said.

Scott said he expects most parishioners will be accepting of the changes.

“I think people will understand that we are looking out for their health while continuing to offer a way to worship that is meaningful to them,” Scott said. 

At Trinity, the use of the chalice has also been temporarily suspended during Holy Communion. Instead of drinking from the cup, priests are dipping the host into the cup for communicants during the service. Receiving the host only for communion is also acceptable, the Rev. Ken Ritter said.

Ritter said suspending the use of the chalice is not new in the church. As a former leader of several senior living communities, Ritter said discontinuing the use of the cup is a common practice to prevent the spread of illness.

“In other churches, we have had to do it for other things, like mononucleosis and the flu,” Ritter said.

Ritter suggested people stay informed and not be anxious.

“Most of all, be calm and do not panic,” Ritter said.

First Presbyterian Church minister the Rev. Joan Gandy said her church is working to keep people informed about the virus and what can be done to help prevent the spread of the virus.

“We want to be prudent about information,” Gandy said.

Gandy said the church is encouraging its parishioners to get their information from trusted websites, such as those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

Gandy said a task force has also been formed to gather information about the virus and consider small changes that can be made to protect people.

Gandy said one particular concern for the church is the exhibit of historic photographs in Stratton Chapel that is open daily to tourists.

“We have the challenge of having people from all over the world come to see the exhibit,” Gandy said.

In response, Gandy said the church is doubling its efforts to keep doorknobs, hand railings and other areas of the church clean.