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SWINE FLU: Churches deal with a breach of their peace

PUBLISHED: 13:51 30 July 2009 | UPDATED: 16:20 07 September 2010

Ben McPartland Churchgoers across Hampstead and Highgate are struggling to be at peace with each other because of swine flu, the Ham&High has learned. The sign of peace, a traditional part of the mass when members of the congregation shake hands with each

Ben McPartland

Churchgoers across Hampstead and Highgate are struggling to be at peace with each other because of swine flu, the Ham&High has learned.

The sign of peace, a traditional part of the mass when members of the congregation shake hands with each other, has now been ditched in some parishes to try to prevent the spread of the virus.

The rule was implemented at St Mary's CofE Church on Dartmouth Park Road during Sunday's services. Parishioners had no problem adapting to the changes, said vicar Guy Pope.

"On Sunday they went round the church and said 'peace be with you' but without shaking hands. It ended up a bit of a joke. In one sense it is a completely over the top reaction but on the other hand we have to be seen to be doing something,'' he said. "Only one person has told me they are very unhappy about this but we cannot do anything about it. I suspect this will go on until next spring."

Earlier this month the Church of England took the unprecedented step of issuing directives to all of its 16,000 parish churches asking them to suspend the 'sharing of the chalice' during communion.

Unless the situation worsens the Catholic Church is leaving it up to each individual parish to make their own decisions.

Some local churches have not yet outlawed the sign of peace but have chosen to discourage parishioners from shaking hands and in some cases members of the congregation have taken it upon themselves to wave rather than shake.

John Hawes, parish administrator at St Mary the Virgin CofE church on Elsworthy Road said: "We are not encouraging people to shake hands at the sign of peace but if they want to do it then it is up to them. It is just one of those things. Whatever you do will be wrong by someone."

Father Tom Forde from Our Lady Help of Christians RC church on Lady Margaret Road in Kentish Town said all Eucharistic ministers who give out communion have been asked to cleanse their hands with antiseptic gel.

Although parishioners have not yet been barred from shaking hands some of the more germ-conscious have decided to nod or wave instead.

He said: "We are keeping an eye on it at the moment. We want people themselves to be responsible and some people are more sensitive than others."

Father Forde admitted that if the virus spreads throughout the parish then they may have to stop communion altogether and even cancel masses in the church to avoid big groups of people congregating together.

At St Josephs RC church on Highgate Hill the sharing of the chalice has been stopped and communion is only given out in the form of the host.

q Police in Camden have also been given a new weapon to help battle the spread of swine flu.

Mini dispensers containing antiseptic hand gel have been given to all frontline officers. Each one straps on neatly to an officer's belt alongside his handcuffs, baton and pepper spray.

Police have also ordered cleaning staff at the borough's police stations to give all telephones and desks a scrub to target any lingering germs.

A police spokesman said: "We are advising officers and staff to practice good hygiene, in line with the general messages being circulated throughout the media.

The spokesman would not reveal if the police had any emergency contingency plan should a major outbreak of swine flu force high numbers of front line officers to stay off work.

ben.mcpartland@hamhigh.co.uk

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