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National Council of Churches Health Task Force
issues H1N1 flu virus check list for congregations

New York, October 15, 2009 -- The National Council of Churches Health Task Force has issued flu prevention guidelines for congregations that includes both standard hygiene activities and unusual worship practices.

Members of congregations are urged to use hand sanitizers, clean door knobs and hand rails, and fill candy dishes with individually wrapped candies. But during the flu season, they are also encouraged to stop shaking hands and hugging one another during the traditional "passing of the peace." Instead, the guidelines suggest substituting "a simple nod of acknowledgement."

Congregations who use disposable plastic cups for communion are well situated for evading the H1N1 and other  influenza viruses. Other congregations are urged to suspend use of the common cup and the practice of "intinction" -- dipping the bread into the wine -- because of their germ-carrying potential.

Of course, pastors and parishioners should wash their hands before anointing persons with oil or before the "laying on of hands ritual."

Churches are also urged to post a church plan for cancelling worship services, nursery schools, daycare centers and senior centers during a flu outbreak.

The NCC's check list, "H1N1 (Swine Flu) and Seasonal Flu Best Practices for Congregations," is posted on the Council's Health Task Force Web page. The list can be downloaded here.

Citing 3 John 1:2a, "Beloved, I wish above all things that you may prosper and be in health," the guidelines note that "pastors and congregational leaders can play an important role as we move more fully into the flu season. Health officials advise extra precautions with the prospect of both seasonal flu and the H1N1 flu virus (swine flu) upon us."

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228 (office), 914-589-6948 (cell) ,