By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Churches: no touching in a time of coronavirus

Amid growing coronavirus concerns, most area churches are advising members of their congregations not to hug or shake hands.

At the McMinnville Presbyterian Church on Sunday, people will rub their hands together, then hold their palms out toward others, without touching, in an American Sign Language greeting of peace, the Rev. Matt Johnson said.

It may prove a good alternative to the “Passing of the Peace” contact that’s usually part of Presbyterian Sunday services, he said.

At the McMinnville First Baptist Church, the Rev. Erika Marksbury is also planning to ask people not to touch. Instead of the usual hug of neighbors during the greeting portion of the Sunday service, she’ll suggest they wave, smile or bump elbows

“If you feel unsafe or you’re sick, stay home,” Marksbury added.

The church also is making sure door handles, faucets and other commonly touched items are disinfected. It’s also doing extra cleaning in the warming shelter it opens on nights on which the temperature falls below 32 degrees.

“We don’t want to create panic,” Marksbury said. “But we are following best practices.”

In Oregon on Thursday, state epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger estimated there could be 150 to 250 coronavirus cases in Oregon now and that unless action is taken, it could grow to over 75,000 cases by mid-May, The Associated Press reported.

At least one church, the Nazarene Church on the Hill, is asking people to stay home and watch the worship service on its Facebook page or website.

Those who come to the church for events are asked to refrain from physical contact, to use hand sanitizer and take other commonsense precautions. “We want to help end the spread of this virus,” Pastor Dave Anderson said.

McMinnville Covenant Church is in the process of developing plans for dealing with coronavirus concerns. So are many other churches in McMinnville, which draw large groups of people for services and activities.

St. James Catholic Church’s priest met with the archbishop of Oregon Thursday to discuss the issue. Plans will be posted on the church’s Facebook page.

St. James, which sometimes has 250 or more people at its Saturday night and Sunday masses, has already advised parishioners not to shake hands or hold hands during services. Holy water fonts have been removed.

At the Presbyterian church, the pastor said staff members have discussed every aspect of church life in light of the spreading virus.

In addition to adding hand sanitizing stations at every door and asking people to limit contact, they are asking people to stay home if they are sick. Presbyterians will deliver supplies to housebound people, if necessary.

Johnson said the church is planning alternative forms of taking communion and collecting offerings. For instance, church officials will set up a communion station instead of passing plates and glasses from person to person. In addition, they will encourage electronic giving instead of putting cash into the offering plate, and they’ll put a basket for cash donations at the back of the sanctuary.

“The church is caught between two values,” Johnson wrote in a letter to the congregation. “On one hand, while the world is filled with anxiety and fear, we are invited to rest in the peace of Christ and the perfect love of God which casts out fear (1 John 4:18).

“On the other hand, we have a duty to protect the safety of all those who participate in our worship and ministries.”

The church’s annual fundraising rummage sale went on as planned this week, although turnout was lighter than usual Thursday. It runs through noon today at Second and Davis streets downtown.

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