Churches learn to accommodate allergies

As has happened at schools across the country, churches are introducing new rules to address allergy concerns for members of their congregations.
Churches can contain a multitude of risks for people who suffer from allergies. ((iStock))
For people allergic to fragrances, nuts or wheat, a church with scented flowers in the sanctuary, homemade peanut-filled baked goods at coffee hour or wheat-based bread on the communion table could be a recipe for disaster.

Churches might not have an official protocol on allergies, but many individual congregations have begun advising people not to wear fragrances and have introduced gluten-free options at communion to avoid serious reactions.

Making the environment safe for people with allergies is part of a church's duty to be "an inclusive family of God," Rev. Stephanie McClellan of Gander, N.L., pastoral charge was quoted as saying by the United Church Observer. Her congregation adopted a no-nut rule when McClellan, who has a life-threatening nut allergy, began her ministry there.

The United Church Observer offers the following tips to help churches get started on creating or expanding an allergy policy:

  • Plants such as hydrangeas, tulips and crocuses with little scent could be used to decorate the sanctuary rather than lilies and hyacinths. People should avoid wearing fragrances when attending church services or other functions.


  • Consider a no-nut rule such as has been implemented in many schools and extend it to Sunday school, vacation bible school, bake sales and church suppers. 


  • St. Paul's United Church in Edmonton recently adapted its communion ritual to accommodate people who can't tolerate wheat. A separate communion station is set up with gluten-free bread or rice wafers and separate containers and utensils are used. Joyce Francis, a member of the worship committee who did research to help establish the protocol, said, "We are very careful not to let anyone dip bread in the same chalice as what you would dip your gluten-free wafer in." 


  • People who know why changes are taking place are more likely to embrace them. Make announcements and put notices on posters and in bulletins.