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Israel Could Be ‘Weeks’ from Coronavirus Vaccine

America’s largest Protestant denominations are monitoring the safety of global missionaries and seeking ways to assist victims. The Southern Baptist Convention’s International Missions Board is collecting donations for its coronavirus response in East Asia.

Earlier this month, SBC Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd led a conference call with global leaders and encouraged prayer for “breakthroughs—not only for churches, pastors, and the ill, but also breakthroughs in medicine and those people caring for the ill.”

The Outbreak Is Affecting Worship Practices

With so many unknowns about the novel coronavirus and its spread, religious leaders and parishioners are using extra caution during worship. On Ash Wednesday, some Catholic priests in the Philippines sprinkled ashes on people’s foreheads to avoid skin-to-skin contact. Jubeth Lupac, a worshiper in Manila, said, “Nothing will hinder us from going to church, even if there’s a virus. We just have to be careful.”

In the United States, some Catholic clergy are discouraging intinction, or dipping the communion wafer into wine. One priest says that practice is “actually less hygienic than simply sharing a silver cup that is wiped after each person,” or common cup distribution.

Pastors and lay leaders are being encouraged to wash their hands and use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Some congregations are temporarily stopping the “passing of the peace” greeting practice, which often involves handshakes and hugs. The Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey says “acceptable substitutes” include “fist bumps, elbow bumps, friendly waves, and peace signs.”

Religious rituals such as administering ashes and Communion are “very intimate,” notes Teer Hardy, a Methodist pastor in Virginia. “You’re a couple of inches from someone’s face.” Hardy tells the Washington Post his church plans to follow the directives of health authorities while not spreading “unnecessary concern and panic.”

Jamie Aten, executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) at Wheaton College, advises church leaders to make a plan, follow expert advice, and stay calm. “Anybody can do a live Facebook sermon, should it get to that point,” he says. “That’s a little more panicked than we need at this moment, but we still want to be prepared.” The latest edition of HDI’s newsletter offers more tips for churches.

The CDC also offers faith-based organizations various guidelines and checklists for dealing with pandemics. Congregations have altered worship practices during previous outbreaks, such as 2009’s H1N1 “swine flu.”