Live Long and Prosper

Sam’s recent (and excellent) post on the Coronavirus and the sacrament inspired me to send the following text to my Bishop:

At work I’ve been getting a lot of COVID-19 material (employment law effects, securities law disclosure, etc.), which led to a random thought. Young men aren’t generally known for their excellent hygiene. Parishioners need to have a high level of confidence that anyone preparing or passing the sacrament has washed his hands vigorously with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. It might be worth it to make sure that the young men understand this and are committed to it.

He agreed and sent a query to the young men leaders. The first response was a bit defensive, to the effect that OF COURSE the young men are washing their hands. That may well be. But I’d be willing to bet $100 that not every last one of them is doing it to the standard I described in my text. I’m confident in that, because it has been an adjustment for me as well. I’ve always washed my hands, but rarely for a full 20 seconds. It has taken a conscious effort to retrain myself to make sure I’m following the suggested protocol.

The second response was quite interesting. It came from an engineer, a whip smart guy, and he laid out a lot of the problems Sam had identified, in particular the problem of passing the trays by hand down the rows.

So anyway, this stuff was on my mind. And last week I was in a leadership meeting, and a brother came in late, panting and sweaty from rushing, and he shook my hand. And afterwards I ran into a stake \leader in the hall, and he shook my hand as well. And the thought occurred to me, “Should we be doing this?”

Just yesterday a friend told me his SP has recommended that we stop shaking hands. My Stake hasn’t gone there yet, but it seems like kind of a no-brainer to me. I mentioned this to my wife, and she said we shouldn’t have to wait for a SP to say something like this, as that is general counsel applicable to everyone, and she mentioned the suggested alternative of bumping elbows together.

With these thoughts swirling in my head, I happened to see a suggestion on the internet that in lieu of shaking hands we start using Spock’s Vulcan greeting.  You know the one, where you create a V with your four fingers and extend your thumb. And I was immediately taken with this alternative.

Part of the reason was the implicit humor in it. Shaking hands is so deeply engrained in our church culture that I can imagine someone being offended by a simple refusal to do it. But being met with a Vulcan greeting would have a humorous element that would catch people off guard, cause them to have to process for a tick, and then bring a smile to their face as they realized what we were doing. And that couple of seconds of time would help them process that this is a good idea in lieu of a traditional hand shake.

From another perspective the gesture can be understood with religious significance. Leonard Nimoy developed it himself based on the priestly blessing. The shape of the fingers represent the Hebrew letter Shin (pronounced “sh” in Hebrew words; Hebrew Shin looks like a stylized W in English), and can stand for such words as El Shaddai (God Almighty), the Shekinah (God’s Presence) or Shalom (“Peace,” suitable as a greeting).

I resolved that I was going to try it today. but I didn’t have the opportunity. Only one brother offered his hand for a shake, and I shook it just from pure muscle memory, forgetting my plan. But I’m committed to itand next week I’ll try to implement it again

What are your thoughts about how we should deal with handshakes at church? And what do you think about the extensive touching of hands that goes on in the temple, generally among people in the group most susceptible to very serious effects from the disease? Should we impose a serous, mandatory hand washing regimen? Should we close and suspend temple work during the height of the epidemic? What would work best in that situation? Do any of you have relatives serving in temples? What are you hearing on the ground about this subject in that context?


  1. Geoff-Aus says:

    Had a 50th wedding anniversary party on Saturday, and a member of the temple presidency, and a friend, who was married on the same day was invited. They told us that as soon as a member contracts the virus in the temple district the temple will close.
    Mustle memory is strange with reguard to hand shakes. Managed to resist most times. Tried foot bumps but that is difficult. The spock greeting sounds good, will try it next week.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks so much for that intel, Geoff. The proposed standard of closing a temple upon the first contraction of the disease in the District strikes me as a reasonable approach.

  3. Larry the Cable-Guy says:

    This seems . . . logical.

  4. I like the Spock thing, even though I can’t get my fingers to work that way.

  5. SisterStacey says:

    I lived in the UK when swine flu was raging and the Stake Presidency issued a guide to not hug or shake hands. We all ignored it. I don’t think anyone got it. But handshakes are ingrained in our response. Not even at church, but just meeting people! Oh well.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    SisterStacey, yeah, I was kind of surprised and disappointed in myself. It took several seconds after the handshake for it to even register what had just happened. I’ll have to be more mindful and focused next week.

  7. If we can’t shake hands, should we even be gathering together?

    Also, how do members know to report their diagnosis to the stake so that temples can be shut down? If a member has a sniffle or a cough, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they will get formally tested, and even so, would you want to share with the community at large your diagnosis? People with Covid-19 claim they are getting death threats and being fired from work on the spot. Even if they are not, privacy is a thing…

  8. Have been attending a Catholic church, and the priest said the bishop’s direction was to not give the sign of peace that is part of each mass. So, no hand shake, no “Peace be with you.”

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    I may have misunderstood. As I interpreted it, the first case in the District means the first confirmed case at large, not the first specifically LDS case. We wouldn’t know this perso’s name or identity, just that an infection had reached the general area per the CDC or other relevant body. If I have misunderstood the policy please someone correct me.

  10. I’m going to use the greeting “Never give up – never surrender!” next Sunday for a greeting. Maybe then we can activate the Omega 13.

  11. Rockwell says:

    I think I shook hands with ten or more people today. That’s very unusual for me – most of the time nobody talks to me at church at all. One additional person offered a fist bump. That’s my preference, but I didn’t think you offer a fist bump to anyone else. In the future I may proactively do fist bumps instead of handshakes. It’s not perfect, but it’s better.

    I did cleaning at the church and they had a shipment of hand sanitizer in the cleaning closet. I don’t know where it is supposed to go. We don’t put it in the bathrooms. The priests should be washing their hands, which is more effective than have sanitizer. So our building has sanitizer in the cleaning closet.

  12. We have a confirmed case in Las Vegas but have heard nothing about closing the temple. But the paper said that it was confirmed by a local test and are sending it to CDC for confirmation so could be waiting for that.

  13. Rockwell says:

    To more things:

    Priests could wear food preparation gloves.

    Also, there is a case of Davis county, Utah, as of Friday, and nothing heard about closing temples yet. But this is an isolated case linked to a cruise ship, not a case of community spread.

  14. Our sacrament table has a built in hand sanitizer unit in the back of the table. The boys touching the bread and water are supposed to (and I assume do) hand-sanitize first. I figured this had become standard practice, but I guess not.

  15. Aussie Mormon says:

    We didn’t shake hands during local leadership meetings last week (at the behest of the presiding officer).

  16. I was visiting a ward in our stake yesterday in my capacity as a member of stake leadership, which meant that I was shaking lots of hands as members filed into the chapel. I was a little concerned, but I also couldn’t bring myself to say no. Fortunately the ward had placed a large bottle of hand sanitizer on a table next to the door, so I used it after every handshake and then washed my hands in the bathroom after sacrament meeting.

  17. Jack Hughes says:

    I like the idea of the Vulcan greeting, but there are people out there who lack the fine motor control to make their hands form the appropriate shape, and they might find it awkward to be expected to greet someone that way in Church. More likely though, some smart-ass is going to return my Vulcan greeting with “may The Force be with you”, much to my chagrin.

  18. When I was a priest 20-30 years ago, we kept hand sanitizer behind the sacrament tray and used it generously during the sacrament hymn. We passed it through all the priests, and everybody used it. Also, prior to sacrament meeting, the young men would remind one another to wash hands when they arrived to prepare the trays. So I wouldn’t presume that young men are incapable of taking this seriously.

    I’m much more worried about all the people poking their fingers into the bread tray, to be honest.

  19. Billy Possum says:

    Spock’s greeting is a brilliant idea. I’m adopting it.

    As I’ve said before, though, hand hygiene reduces risk of transmission somewhat, but it’s not clear by how much. (Public health authorities will rightly use any communicable illness to highlight good baseline health behaviors, like handwashing.) I won’t post a link, but if you look at CDC’s COVID-19 page, you’ll see that scientists currently believe the coronavirus is transmitted primarily (or at least significantly) through respiratory droplets from a cough or sneeze moving through the air.

    This all confirms what others have said: that we should be meeting less (or not at all) during a local outbreak, handshakes or no.

  20. Last Lemming says:
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