The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) issued some conflicting advice to Iowa’s churches since the public health emergency in response to COVID-19 began on March 17, 2020.
Gov. Kim Reynolds suspended events and gatherings of more than ten people that included worship services. IDPH issued guidance for churches the same day that encouraged live streaming and podcasts. They also gave specific directions for clergy who provide communion during home visits.
“Clergy and servers should wash their hands before administering communion. If soap and water is (sic) not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer,” the document reads.
“Communicants should be encouraged to use their own hand sanitizers before communion,” they continue.
IDPH recommended not using a common Communion cup (which I would never recommend under any circumstances, but I’m Baptist). They then wrote, “if it is used, the clergy or server should be especially attentive to wiping and turning the cup with every communicant.”
Ok. IDPH then added for individual cups: “When using individual cups for communion, ensure the individual filling the cups washes their hands with soap and water before doing so.”
Based on that guidance, it is surprising that for drive-in services that are allowed in the state during this pandemic, IDPH says communion shouldn’t be served.
While that is not the only reason some churches offer a drive-in service, it’s a significant reason why some churches offer it.
“Food, beverages, communion, or other materials should not be distributed before, after, or as part of the service,” IDPH guidance for drive-in services says.
It begs the question. If it’s ok for clergy to go from house to house offering communion and it is ok for restaurants to offer curbside pick-up in their parking lots and provide delivery services, why not communion during drive-in services?
IDPH guides restaurants regarding sanitizing work areas, hand washing, etc., but no special guidance for curbside pick-up, take-out, or delivery.
Couldn’t the same guidance for communion in homes be used during a drive-in service? Why allow food distribution at, say, Sonic, but no communion at drive-in services? Surely, there are steps churches can take to ensure the safe distribution of communion even during a drive-in service.
Granted, it does not appear that churches are bound to follow this particular advice and should follow their conscience, as well as, steps that protects the health of their congregation.
Note: Caffeinated Thoughts reached out to the Iowa Department of Public Health for clarification regarding the guidance, but no answers were provided prior to publication. This article will be updated when they reply.