For those with allergies, some of the best things in church — like food and flowers — can be uncomfortable and even unhealthy.
Today, the Matriarchs offer their advice about allergies in the church.
Our congregation is a very welcoming congregation. No, really. We have been open to, and affirming of, “all the people” for so many years that it’s as automatic as breathing.
And, speaking of breathing:
Now we are wondering how inclusive we can practically be of people in our congregation who struggle with allergies. When the Christmas tree goes up in our small-ish sanctuary, a few people have asthma that can be triggered by evergreens. When the Easter flowers are placed, some are allergic to hyacinths and others are allergic to lilies.
Perhaps not in the same category: A woman in our congregation is scent-averse and is always uncomfortable and vocal when she smells a hint of deodorant or perfume or cleaning scents.
And then there’s food!
Communion bread: gluten free? egg free? peanut free? soy free?
Church pot luck dinners — a.k.a. “covered dish” or “carry in” dinners — can be a challenge for those allergic to eggs, shellfish, peanuts, or gluten as these ingredients might be hidden in the dish.
Help! What can we reasonably do to minimize exposure to things that can make people sick? Have any of your congregations made any changes in traditions or practices? Please share what has worked for you.
Our Matriarchs offer some great suggestions:
Thank you for your thoughtful question. I think this is an important issue because there are many people with different allergies. The answer to this question will be different for every congregation or ministry.
Within our congregation we have addressed allergy issues in several ways:
1) For our children and youth programs, parents fill out information forms and one of the questions is regarding their child’s allergies. With that information we buy food for the children and youth programs accordingly.
2) Regarding Easter flowers and allergies, we have been purchasing less allergy-prone flowers and/or buying lilies with the pollen already removed
3) We have artificial trees and wreaths for Hanging of the Greens instead of live trees.
We have not had a request for gluten free bread for communion but we post an announcement in our bulletin for people to request gluten free if needed.
Blessings on your efforts to be welcoming for all.
Rev. Kelley Wehmeyer Shin
Dear Welcoming Pastor-
Many years ago, I had the pleasure of listening to my father and his brother-in-law discuss the use of an inclusive language lectionary. (This was pre-NRSV.) After debating original languages and familiar translations, it finally came down to this comment by my dad, “We need to do this so that everyone feels cared about.”
It seems to me that although the situation is different, perhaps the logic is the same. In order to insure that everyone feels cared about, maybe it’s time to invest in a good quality artificial Christmas tree. They’re fire retardant, allergen free and less likely to fall over. If the Easter lilies are going to make some folks feel ill, why not choose fragrance free flowers? A few to consider: tulips, anemones, poppies, ranunculus, calla lilies and amaryllis. Perfume and cleaning products are harder to control, but it can’t hurt to ask.
As to the bread question, I recently attended worship at a congregation that offered the following solution for indicating a gluten-free preference. As you came forward there was a table with small 1 inch cubes in a dish. If you wished to have gluten-free bread, you took a block and placed it on the communion rail so that the person sharing the bread would know your preference.
I know it isn’t possible to accommodate everyone’s needs, but if we can consider the possibilities of change within the framework of hospitality and care, maybe it won’t be as difficult as we imagine.
Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath aka RevHRod
So hard to deal with in the congregational context, because people’s allergies can be all over the place. While the congregations I have served have kept fresh greens at Advent/Christmas in the sanctuary, and there are always Easter flowers (more tulips though, than anything), there are some things the places I have served to become more allergy-inclusive:
*At potlucks and bake sales, we ask people to label ingredients (Gluten Free, Dairy Free, tree nuts, shell fish, etc. )
*For Vacation Bible School snacks, I purchased all Gluten Free, nut-free snacks.
*In classrooms shared with the week-day school, we didn’t allow any food at all on Sundays.
*Communion offers a gluten free choice. We tried gluten free bread at one place, but that stuff just crumbles. So does gluten free matzah, in case you are wondering.
*One church I know of asks people to NOT wear perfume, after-shave, etc. I think once people are sensitized, they are willing to accommodate. Well, some, at least.
I think the scent allergies are the hardest to work with, especially around the high holy days of Easter and Christmas (who doesn’t love a poinsettia, right?). However, if there are people who just can’t handle these things, then I would bring that subject up with the Deacons (or the appropriate body in your context). In one church I served, we decorated the sanctuary with balloons on Easter. It’s a great alternative symbol for resurrection! It’s also helpful if congregants let you know if they specific allergies that keep them away from worship or other functions. That doesn’t always happen—some people don’t want to be a *bother*. As a person of allergic reactions and faith, I know that I am ultimately the one responsible for keeping myself safe and not having to use the Epi-pen, but thoughtful awareness around me goes a long way, too—but the only way that will happen is if I let people know what is going on!
Hope this is helpful.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Thank you, Matriarchs, for your thoughtful and practical responses!
How about you, dear Revs? How have you responded to allergies in your congregation? Let us know in the comments below.
Note: Please focus your comment on your congregation’s experience with, and responses to, allergies (etc.) &/or your own experience with navigating allergens in church life. Do not use this forum to question/criticize the legitimacy of any allergy or food sensitivity.
Questions! RevGal Matriarchs love questions!
Let us help you with a ministry dilemma that has popped up in your congregation. Send your question to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com.
RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.