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St. Helena churches change practices in light of COVID-19

St. Helena churches change practices in light of COVID-19

From the Complete coronavirus coverage from the Napa Valley Register, St. Helena Star, and The Weekly Calistogan series

A postponed business meeting, the encouragement of a “namaste” gesture, fist bumps and the “sacred elbow bump” are a few of the changes that are happening at local churches in light of concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The Rev. Canon Charles R. Dillon, St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, Oakville, said, “We postponed one business meeting because it appeared folks were not going to show up due to concern about the flu in general.” About changes their practices at church, he added, “We assume folks are grownups and will choose their most comfortable way to contact each other and receive the Eucharist. As a priest, the only thing I’ve done is to remind folks of their options and be reassured that I am careful to clean my hands.” Dillon added the church wants the conversations to be with no stress, saying, “Folks just want to be close to Jesus.”

Dr. David Brown said, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hasn’t really changed any formal practices. However, there has been a strong encouragement to bump fists or elbows rather than conducting the typical hand-shaking. And, of course, members are strongly encouraged to remain at home if there is any sign of cold-flu sickness.”

Brown is the regional Director of Public Affairs and was the president of the Napa Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Napa Stake includes 10 congregations, including four in Napa and one in St. Helena.

St. Helena’s Grace Episcopal Church, whose rector is the Rev. Amy Denney Zuniga, said, “We’ve stopped hugging and shaking hands during the service, instead we are encouraging a ‘namaste’ type gesture.” She added she gave a hand-washing demo during announcements and she encouraged her congregation to “give up touching our faces and take on washing our hands for Lent.” Additionally, there is hand sanitizer at the door, hand-washing signs posted all over campus, and workers are sanitizing surfaces.

Grace Episcopal Church is following the health recommendations of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California, specifically as it relates to the celebration of the Eucharist, the sharing of the body (bread) and blood (wine or grape juice) of Jesus Christ.

On Monday, Denney Zuniga said she is waiting for further advice from the diocese and she fully expects that wine will no longer be offered to parishioners next week, although it will still be a part of the Eucharist celebration.

The rector added, “A lot of people on Sunday (March 1) only received the bread, which according to our theology is a full communion.” She added, “We are also working on setting up live-streaming of our service for those who may not be able or feel comfortable being in public at this time.”

Pastor Burke Owens of the St. Helena United Methodist Church said his congregation is “instituting the sacred elbow bump during passing of the peace at Sunday worship until the viral concerns are over.”

During worship, he said, “As we generally practice intinction of the host into the cup, each person dips their bread into the chalice, there is less concern about hand to hand or hand to mouth infection. However, we are now handing out a piece of bread per person instead of them taking the bread themselves.”

For cleanliness, the church has disinfectant liquid at the front and rear of the sanctuary, in the fellowship hall and near the restrooms. Additionally, Owens said, “We are encouraging regular handwashing, which is quite appropriate for Good Friday in honor of Pilate’s sudden need for cleanliness!

“Finally, we are asking people to stay home from worship if they are not well — so that the sharing is the good kind and not the infectious kind.”

Jonathan Eastman, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in St. Helena, said church leaders are recommending that if people are not feeling well, they should stay home and visit their doctor to get a diagnosis. “If you are sick and need support, let the office or me know and we can arrange to bring soup or other necessities as well as offer prayers for health,” Eastman writes.

Additionally, Eastman writes, “At the church entryway, there will be a container of hand-sanitizer as you enter — everyone will be encouraged to cleanse their hands before entering the sanctuary.” As far as greeting each other, “We are asking that you not shake hands with one another, but only offer a verbal greeting,” he writes.

All of the Star’s regular Thursday Pulpit columns were surveyed via e-mail and of those who responded, only Steve Sager, pastor of the Calvary Chapel of St. Helena, said there have been no changes at his church.

Editor’s Note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit

You may reach David Stoneberg at 967-6800 or

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St. Helena Star Editor

David Stoneberg is the editor of the St. Helena Star, an award-winning weekly newspaper. Prior to joining the Star in 2006, he worked for the Lake County Record-Bee, the Clear Lake Observer American, the Middletown Times Star and The Weekly Calistogan.

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