Jacqueline L. Salmon
Religious organizations have begun to swing into action in response to the swine flu virus now sweeping around the world.
In Fairfax County, Faith Communities in Action, a coalition of religious organizations, produced a training program in 2007, codified in a publication, “Ministry & Hope During the Pandemic Influenza.” In light of the current outbreak, author Lewis Saylor has begun making it available again. Contact him at [email protected] and he’ll e-mail you a copy. There’s no Web site for Faith Communities in Action.
The 19-page guide lays out ways to respond to the virus. For example, it recommends the houses of worship prepare a “relationship model,” where they identify the various groups of people they interact with on a daily, weekly and monthly basis so they know how to organize a response.
Also, they have some questions to answer: are they open to using masks and gloves within their community? Who will back up their spiritual leaders if they become ill? How will congregations worship if public gatherings are restricted? (In overwhelmingly Catholic Mexico City, where churches were closed, Masses were televised last Sunday.) How will baptism, foot washing, communal bathing and other traditions of the faith be observed? How will home groups or small groups foster connectedness?
The publication also explores more grim scenarios, such as how a faith community can respond if there are mass fatalities. Let’s hope we don’t get there.
Also in the Washington area, a local mosque, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, will be holding a meeting to discuss the flu outbreak at 8 p.m. Friday night, Imam Mohamed Magid said this morning.
In Dallas, Bishop Kevin Farrell issued a public letter requesting that his diocesan pastors remind all those at Mass to “be attentive to the indications of our public health officials with respect to the transmission of this flu,” and consider suspending Holy Eucharist for an appropriate period of time. He also asked all Eucharistic ministers use proper hygiene before the distribution of the Eucharist at Masses.
“Biblical Christianity has much to say about disease and sickness, and the Christian tradition is rich with thought about how Christians, churches, and pastors should think of sickness, disease, and death,” he notes.
UPDATE: The Episcopal Church’s disaster organization, Episcopal Relief &
Development, has information on the outbreak that links to examples of
pandemic preparedness plans and offers advice on having congregational
gatherings if an outbreak should occur in a particular area.