ST. CHARLES, IL–The worship pastor has finished the first song and is done welcoming people to church. And then the words that strike fear comes out, “Go ahead and give a handshake or hug to those around you.”
If you have a nut allergy, one hug from a person who had peanut butter in their oatmeal could mean pulling out an Epi-pen. One handshake with a person who had a banana nut muffin in the coffee bar could land you in the ER.
“I don’t ever remember things being this bad in years past,” said Rev. James Plemons, pastor at First Congregational Church. “Seems like half the congregation has some kind of allergy or sensitivity that we need to take into consideration.”
It started at the last Fall Festival when a peanut-sensitive girl dressed as Elsa complained of a scratchy throat after bumping into by a boy eating peanut M&Ms.
To accommodate their peanut allergic congregants, all members are asked to refrain from eating anything peanut oriented before attending church. Just to be certain, two Sundays ago greeters started swabbing hands and taking saliva samples to test for nut residue. Specially trained dogs are being employed as well.
Those testing positive for peanuts will be given a sticker that says, “I’ve Had Peanuts” and be ushered to a roped-off area near the soundboard.
The board is discussing having a Plexiglas booth created for all those people testing positive for these things. The cost will run into the thousands to do so. The sanctuary will also be outfitted with special HEPA filters to help contain the spread of nut molecules.
“We’ve had several folks complain about this,” said Thomas Cox, elder board president. “I certainly understand their concern but we need to be inclusive and bend over backward for those who have sensitivities.”
Plans are underway to also start testing for cat hair, glutens, and excessive scent. People testing positive for two or more of these will be asked to participate in the services from the recently converted auxiliary room normally reserved for crying babies.
There is also talk of adding a third service that is completely peanut and gluten-free. Sources tell us the worship team is not too happy about this.