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Hymnals and hand sanitizer: How local churches are preparing for service in the year of coronavirus

Posted at 6:42 PM, Mar 05, 2020

CINCINNATI — Pastor Stacey Midge spent part of Thursday afternoon stocking the pews at Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church with the accoutrements of a uniquely 2020 service: Hymnals, Kleenex, hand sanitizer and alcohol hand wipes.

Although the Ohio Department of Health had not recorded any cases of coronavirus in the state by Thursday night, Midge said she wants members of her congregation to feel as safe as possible when they come to worship.

“We don’t want to create a panic, because we don’t see a reason for panic,” she said.

Just reason to take precautions, including asking congregants to leave space between themselves and their neighbor in the pews, to bump elbows instead of shaking hands when exchanging the sign of peace, and to perform a modified version of Holy Communion.

“We normally tear off a peace of bread and dip it into the cup (of wine), but now we are cutting larger strips of bread and reminding people not to dip their fingers into the cup and helping people to do Communion in a way that is less likely to transmit the virus,” Midge said. "We don’t want to get so carried away that we sanitize the ritual beyond the symbolism, but we also don’t want to take the symbol so far that we are endangering people."

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati instructed its priests to follow similar guidelines in an email sent out Monday.

Some areas experiencing high rates of coronavirus infection — such as Wuhan, China, where the first cases were recorded — have become quarantine zones, either officially via government decree or unofficially as residents opt to stay home from work and other public engagements.

Midge said Mount Auburn Presbyterian’s staff discussed what will happen if the virus appears in Ohio and leads to a drop in in-person attendance.

“If we come to an emergency situation where people are being asked to not come in public or be in large groups, we are prepared to offer worship opportunities over Facebook Live and over Zoom,” she said.