Churches in North America refuse panic response to H1N1 flu virus

By agency reporter
1 May 2009

The Rev Rebecca Bourret was vacationing at a resort in Cancun, Mexico, when what has been calledy 'swine flu' (H1N1) broke out some 800 miles away in Mexico City. She later returned to Massachusetts in the USA, where people are also on alert.

“We weren’t near Mexico City at the time we were there, so I wasn’t concerned,” said Ms Bourret, from Christ Lutheran Church, Natick. “Many people die of more common illnesses, even just the common flu.”

Across the churches, locally and globally, members are weighing how best to respond to the H1N1 ’flu outbreak, given the misinformation that is around, as well as the seriousness of the situation – actual and potential.

“You don’t want to overreact and incite panic,” said another pastor, the Rev Robert G. Moore, from Christ the King Church, Houston. “On the other hand, you need to be proactive to protect people.”

But where to draw the line isn’t clear, say those in or near infected areas.

The World Health Organization raised the pandemic alert to its second-highest level on 29 April 2009. In the United States, some states, such as Texas, issued disaster declarations.

Still, health officials are not certain of how dangerous the flu will become.

Moore’s congregation quickly called off a youth trip to Mexico City after the outbreak. Calling off Sunday worship, however, wasn’t on the radar. At midweek he was doubtful of foregoing the “passing of the peace”—usually done with a handshake.

If needed, “the peace can also be shared with a smile,” said Linda Schoene, Christ the King’s congregational nurse.

Congregations should remind people of good health practices, such as frequent hand washing and covering the mouth when coughing, Schoene said. The bigger challenge is getting people to stay home when they’re sick.

“You don’t want parents putting kids with colds in the nursery either,” she added.

The ELCA Rocky Mountain Synod planned to kick off its regional assembly April 30 in El Paso, Texas. One local pastor, the Rev L Wayne Kendrick, said he was asked whether surgical masks would be provided to the 400 participants expected.

“No, we’re not,” said Kendrick, who leads Peace Lutheran Church. “There’s no swine flu, either here or across the border in Juarez.”

The synod has reserved eight vans to take some registrants to Juarez to view ministry sites today (1 May 2009). Some people have backed out of the trip because they don’t want to cross the border into Mexico, the synod said.

“Most people aren’t aware that every day 25,000 residents of El Paso cross the border to work in Juarez,” said Madelyn Busse, diaconal minister and assistant to the bishop.

In Minnesota, students from Concordia College, Moorhead, learned that the Mexico Summer Study Abroad programme was cancelled after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked that “nonessential” travel to Mexico be avoided.

“We wanted to honour that,” said Dr Per Anderson of Concordia’s Global Education Division.

Meanwhile, many US churches and development agencies are aware that the largest problem, not least the social and economic damage and fallout, in being faced in North America by poor Mexicans.

With thanks and acknowledgements to the ECLA News Service - http://www.ELCA.org/

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