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This morning as I splashed witch hazel on my face after shaving, I thought about why. For one thing, it's cheaper than after shave. More importantly, it has very little odor and works as well.

So I use witch hazel (in part) because it's easier on other people. In fact, aftershaves, colognes, and perfumes keep some people away from church and other public gatherings.

A few churches have tried having "scent-free zones" in their sanctuaries, but most people with chemical sensitivities don't benefit from this zone approach because you can't confine the air in a room to just one zone. If someone is wearing aftershave, the scent carries throughout the room. Likewise, cleaners.

Food allergies present another issue for many people. For some, if they even get a bit of nut or peanut in their mouths they need immediate treatment to avoid anaphylactic shock. My wife, a teacher, knows of students who start to have trouble even if they just smell peanut butter.

How can the church be a genuine fellowship in which people spend time with other people, worshiping together, talking together, eating together if some of those people have such severe allergies and sensitivities?

Here are a few ideas:

Get informed

Living Well with a Disability has a helpful feature story about one woman's journey with multiple chemical sensitivities.

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network website has good, medically sound information. The section with guidelines for schools and camps can be adapted to a church setting quite easily.

You'll be able to find many more resources by searching the internet for "scent free guidelines" and "fragrance free guidelines" and "multiple chemical sensitivities".

Adopt a plan for fragrance reduction

Suggested resolution for adoption by council: that for the well being of our church community, ________ (add name) church adopt a one-year fragrance-reduction policy, with periodic printed and voiced announcements and an education program to inform, remind, and to reshape lifestyles. Educational tools include bulletin inserts, handouts, articles in the online news and an adult education forum. And at the end of one year, the _______(church council) decide whether to continue this reduction policy, or to adopt a fragrance-free policy.

Start with the People Already in Your Congregation

A Christian who works at an allergy doctor's office once wrote to me, "Although churches generally are not mandated by the American's with Disabilites Act, the letter of that law gives a guideline for the church, and voluntary compliance is the Christ-like thing to do. Common sense would dictate any policy be directed towards the needs of the people affected. If that church has a member with a food allergy, they should work with that member (and doctor if indicated) to develop a plan for a safe environment. I also strongly recommend they consult their liability insurance rep for advice."


Last week, for the first time, our church offered 'glutten free' wafers for communion. We knew of one person who would use the wafer due to an allergy.

A few things to remember. Each wafer needs to each be placed in a little 'zip lock' baggie, due to the allergy. It cannot touch the bread on the plate. You will need to be careful during the 'prep' time of the sacrements too.

The glutten free wafers were quite expensive, so the little baggies came in handy for keeping the unused wafers for our next communion.

Heather-Oakville, Ontario


Mark Stephenson on September 7, 2010

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Great point. I've heard of people who have brought their own gluten-free bread from home. It's so much better when the church leaders accommodate this need. Otherwise, if someone with problems with gluten forgets to take their own bread, they cannot participate with the others. Then communion isn't really communion.

Tim Postuma on September 7, 2010

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Yes, I'm glad you mentioned that Heather. My church also recently began offering gluten-free elements. Even to those of us who aren't allergic, it sends a strong message of 'we care'.

Without a doubt, all of our elements are 'glutten-free' given their small size. Oh no, that's spelled 'glutton'.  ;-)

You're really talking about the "nuts and bolts" level of caring for people. Interesting that we'll send a missionary around the world (as we should) but ignore the simple needs of someone right in front of us.

When I first read your article, I thought, "How far do we have to take this?"

The answer, of course, is "As far as Jesus went."

Rich Dixon

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