Banning handshaking in church due to coronavirus fears stifles “Christian fellowship”, an eminent clergyman claims.
Bishop Charlesworth Browne, president of the Antigua and Barbuda Council of Church Leaders, was responding to warnings by regional religious leaders who have urged worshippers not to touch hands while making the ‘peace sign’.
St John’s Catholic Church is the first in Antigua to follow suit, suspending physical interaction while encouraging the congregation to adhere to all guidelines set by health officials.
But Bishop Browne, who is also the head of the Christian Ministries Centre, said the move was extreme and premature given that there were no coronavirus cases in the country.
“It is really going too far at this time. There is no need to tell people to refrain from handshaking at this time. At the moment, it is not here and I don’t think that we should be telling people not to shake hands.
“You know, Christian fellowship is something that we really need at this time and we need to be very careful how we sometimes put a wedge between what God intends for us to bring us closer together,” he said.
“I am not being simplistic here because if there were to be a Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) or World Health Organization (WHO) stipulation because it’s not just a handshake you know, there are particles of this virus in the air so I mean what are you going to do?
“As soon as somebody comes into your presence you say, don’t come closer than 10 feet to me? At this time, it is just not necessary,” he said.
The bishop’s response came in light of recent guidelines set out by the Diocese of St John’s-Basseterre, which includes the Catholic congregations in Antigua and Barbuda and other islands in the region.
The new rules advised parishioners that, as of last weekend, communion should comprise bread alone, not wine.
Those administering communion have been advised to wash their hands thoroughly, and place bread directly into the recipient’s hand and not on the tongue. It also advised worshippers against hugging and shaking hands during the offering of the peace sign, saying “a nod, smile or bow” would be appropriate.
But Bishop Browne believes the focus should be on preventing the virus from reaching the nation’s shores and for persons to practice good hygiene.
“What we need to be concerned about more is preventing it from getting here, protecting our borders and in the meantime for people to practice good hygiene and strengthen their immune system,” he said.
“It is the flu season and people tend to have compromised immune systems at this time of the year. Good hygiene does not have to do with handshaking. Right now, I am at a place where everywhere I go, I have hand sanitiser and use it.”