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Fargo-area churches make changes to prevent spread of H1N1

FARGO -- Fargo-area churches are doing their part to prevent the spread of H1N1 influenza.

The Catholic Diocese of Fargo issued guidelines this week of voluntary actions parishioners and clergy can take to stay healthy.

Some guidelines are:

• Shaking hands during mass is discouraged. Parishioners may choose to simply say "Peace be with you" or bow rather than extend their hand.

• During communion, parishioners may elect to take the bread and not the consecrated wine from the communal cup.

• Clergy and parishioners are urged to wash hands and use a hand sanitizer frequently, especially if they are serving communion.

The guidelines also encourage people to stay home if they are ill and instead watch Mass on TV, read Scripture or pray devotional prayers.

"Missing mass due to illness is not sinful; it is prudent and shows a respect for your brothers and sisters," the guidelines state.

For schools within the diocese, children should not take communion from the communal cup, and they are encouraged to bow to one another rather than shake hands.

That's already being done at Holy Spirit Elementary School in Fargo, said the Rev. Jeffrey Wald.

In his parish, Wald plans to discuss the new guidelines with his staff and publish them for the congregation.

"I think the bishop in a very wise way heightens for us priests to have concern about sanitation issues in the church," Wald said.

Other denominations are also taking extra precautions.

At Fargo's Elim Lutheran Church, the congregation is using alternate ways of greeting each other, such as bumping elbows or flashing the peace sign.

"We've been trying to balance concern over this flu virus with the need to stay in contact and maintain fellowship and that human contact with each other," said the Rev. Sue Koesterman.

Atonement Lutheran Church in Fargo is adopting many guidelines suggested by the state Department of Health, said parish nurse Barb Hanson.

Officials use extra diligence on hand washing and sanitation in the church's day care and preschool, Hanson said.

The church continues to pass an offering plate, but may switch to a stationary offering plate, she said.

At Fargo Baptist Church, a hand sanitizer is available and greeters are urged to use it, said church secretary Elaine Schaefer.

Members also are respectful and stay home if they are ill, Schaefer said.

"We're just praying it doesn't hit here," she said.