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CCE Welcomes Ministry to the Chemically Sensitive

Over the past twenty years, the number of people who suffer from chronic illnesses such as asthma, allergies, Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia, and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) has skyrocketed. This has created new challenges for the church, as it seeks to minister to people who suffer from these and other health conditions. Many churches are unequipped to reach out effectively to these people who often feel misunderstood by friends, family, and the church.

Thousands of people across the country with MCS are unable to attend church activities due to their health condition. There are unique barriers that prevent many people with MCS from attending traditional services. A few of the most common barriers include scented products used by other church members, toxic cleaning products, and building materials used in the remodeling of church facilities.

People who suffer from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity become ill when exposed to low levels of chemicals that wouldn’t bother the average person. When exposed to products such as fresh paint, new carpeting, perfume, or scented laundry products, a few of the symptoms people may experience include migraines, seizures, disorientation, or asthma attacks.

In February 2004, Calvary Chapel Eastside in Bellevue, Washington welcomed Aroma of Christ, a ministry to the chemically sensitive, to become part of the ministry team there. In order to accommodate those with MCS, Calvary Eastside set aside a room next to the main  auditorium referred to as a “Fragrance Free Zone.” Only those who were willing to abide by a strict fragrance free policy were allowed to enter. People who sat in this room were able to view the service through glass panels or on a T.V. monitor, and people who hadn’t been able to attend church in years were once again feeling connected to the body of Christ. One woman, Nancy Schlimmer, commented that being able to come back to church was like a “homecoming.” Judy Stephenson said she was blessed to be able to take communion and see baby dedications again after spending years in isolation on Sunday mornings. The room was open for about three years, but had to be closed due to remodeling done in the facility that the church was renting.

In addition, Calvary Eastside has ministered to those with MCS in other ways as well. During the holiday season, they have sent Christmas carolers to the homes of chemically sensitive people who are too ill to attend church regularly. Calvary Eastside has held outdoor picnics and baptisms during the summer, which chemically sensitive people have been able to participate in. Special accommodations have also been made at concerts, retreats, and Bible studies.

My prayer is that many churches around the country will start learning how to minister effectively to the chemically sensitive. I know it is not God’s perfect plan for members of the body of Christ to be isolated at home, unable to be part of their local church. The apostle Paul makes it clear that each person is a valuable member of the body of Christ. I Corinthians 12:21-23 says: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.”

A great way for churches to start accommodating the chemically ill is to implement fragrance free policies in their churches by asking members to refrain from wearing scented products to church functions. In addition, when renovating their facilities, choosing products that are low in toxicity will also help to allow some who are chemically sensitive continue to attend services.

It’s not uncommon for those with MCS to be forced to change churches when remodeling takes place. This can be very disruptive not only to people with MCS, but to their families as well. Personally, my family has had to change churches four times in the last fifteen years for this reason. In 1996, the church my family was attending painted its auditorium with a toxic paint, forcing us to find a new church. Then in 2000, the facility our new church met at sealed the floors with a toxic oil product, once again causing us to change churches. In 2009 and 2011 we had to change churches because of new carpeting that was installed in the facilities of the churches we were attending.

Calvary Chapel Eastside has plans to try and prevent this problem from happening to people like me in the future. They have bought property and are in the process of building a new facility. They are building a “clean room” for the chemically sensitive that will consist of materials that are low in toxicity. It will be similar to an old-fashioned cry room, with a glass panel separating it from the main auditorium. It will have its own exterior entrance and small restroom.

If at all possible, people with MCS prefer to mingle freely within the congregation. As the church becomes educated on the toxicity of chemicals and the issues affecting the chemically ill, hopefully this will be the case for more people with MCS in the near future. Just as it took years for people to become aware of the harmful effects of tobacco smoke, it is taking time for society to understand the damaging effects of fragrances and chemicals on human health. Until then, “fragrance free zones” in churches and “clean rooms” in new buildings are an alternative for those who otherwise would be unable to attend church.

I know the Lord will bless churches that reach out to the afflicted. Isaiah 58:10 says: “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” I am so thankful for all that Calvary Chapel Eastside has done to minister to the chemically sensitive, and I pray that other churches will follow their example. Psalm 9:18 says: “But the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish.”

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