Churches across the country —and the Coachella Valley is no exception —are making adjustments in how parishioners greet one another and in other elements of worship during the coronavirus outbreak.

The goal is to spread the gospel, not the germs.

The Riverside County Public Health Department declared a public health emergency for the Coachella Valley after a confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19) surfaced locally.

As more cases of coronavirus are confirmed in the U.S., many clergy are taking steps to prevent its spread at church. The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles last week told its congregations to stop offering communion wine. Religious leaders in Chicago, Seattle, Houston and elsewhere have taken similar precautions in houses of worship.

Locally, the Rev. Derek Fossey, senior pastor at Hope Lutheran Church in Palm Desert, emailed a notice to all parishioners on Saturday, March 7 before the evening service.


The Rev. Derek Fossey

“As we continue to pray for all who are impacted by this virus, we at Hope will be taking steps to lessen the risks at worship,” Fossey wrote. “Greeters will welcome you before services with a warm smile and welcoming greeting, but without a handshake. During the Passing of the Peace or Greeting Time we invite you to greet one another with the peace of the Lord with a gesture of peace such as the peace sign or placing your hand over your heart.”

When celebrating Holy Communion, each person distributing Communion will have used hand sanitizer prior to distribution, Fossey assured worshippers.

“Also,” he added, “remember that communing with both bread and wine is not required and isn’t even the historical standard, so please do not feel obligated to partake.”

Hope Lutheran has several hand sanitizing stations at the entrances, which worshippers are encouraged to use.

:Above all, if you are feeling sick, please stay home and consult with a healthcare professional,” Fossey advised. “You can always participate in worship by watching our services live on Facebook.”

As events and circumstances change, Fossey said further adaptions may have to be made.

“But for now take care of yourselves and let us strive to live in hope, not fear,” he said.

The coronavirus outbreak comes at one the holiest times of the year — Lent, which is the 40-day season (excluding Sundays) of penitence and preparation for the Three Days of Holy Week and Easter. During Lent, mid-week worship services are a tradition and are often preceded by soup suppers.

Image Sources

  • Derek Fossey: Hope Lutheran Palm Desert
  • Worship: Shutterstock