Passing the peace, sharing the elements, greeting the minister

How do we pass the peace in a time when the COVID-19 virus (the corona virus) is spreading? What do we do to greet each other in worship (and, indeed, in everyday life) if shaking hands is not advised?

This was the topic of conversation at this week’s Canberra ministers lectionary conversation. We gave this some serious consideration to the question: how do we ensure the wellbeing (the good health) of the people in our community of faith?

One suggestion made is that, when it comes time to pass the peace, we face the other person, place our right hand over our own heart, and say, “peace be with you”. That avoids direct physical contact, but incorporates a direct visual interaction.

The other place where shaking hands is common, is at the end of the worship service, when people who are present file out (usually in an orderly manner) and shake hands with the worship leader who is dutifully standing at the exit door, waiting to greet each of them personally.

The best way to handle this would be to explain, during worship, that we will not be shaking hands during or after the service, and make the suggestion that people can interact in the way suggested: face each other, place our right hand over our own heart, and greet one another.

Modes of distributing the elements during communion need also to be considered; is it wise to hold to the use of a common cup? It is a wonderful symbol, but quite possibly is a significant health hazard in this time. A discussion of this matter with elders or church council would be a sensible way to proceed.

The use of hand sanitiser by the presiding person, prior to handling the elements, has been suggested for some time. Might it also be sensible to consider having sanitiser available to be used by others assisting in leading the service, and indeed by all as they arrive at worship? This is now the status quo in hospitals and medical centres, which provide a precedent for church gatherings.

This matter relates to the wellbeing of the communities we serve. How do we ensure that we keep a safe and healthy place for people to gather? I encourage you to consider these matters in the days ahead within the faith community or congregation where you currently gather for worship and fellowship.

For helpful information on COVID-19, see https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov#how-it-spreads

Author: John T Squires

My name is John Squires. I live in the Australian Capital Territory. I have been an active participant in the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) since it was formed in 1977, and was ordained as a Minister of the Word in this church in 1980. I have served in rural, regional, and urban congregations and as a Presbytery Resource Minister and Intentional Interim Minister. For two decades I taught Biblical Studies at a theological college and most recently I was Director of Education and Formation and Principal of the Perth Theological Hall. I've studied the scriptures in depth; I hold a number of degrees, including a PhD in early Christian literature. I am committed to providing the best opportunities for education within the church, so that people can hold to an informed faith, which is how the UCA Basis of Union describes it. This blog is one contribution to that ongoing task.

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