Copyright © 2007 Where Is God Ministries
Did you know there is a growing number of believers who find themselves unable to attend a service or participate in a church activity without risking becoming very ill? The truth is, there are millions of people who report mild to severe allergic, asthmatic, immunologic and neurological reactions to perfume, cologne, air fresheners, cleaning products, paint, stains, etc.
In fact, “In 1998, it was estimated that 26.3 million Americans have been diagnosed with asthma.”1 Asthma is a serious respiratory disorder that can constrict and cause swelling of the airways. “The Institute of Medicine placed fragrance in the same category as second hand smoke in triggering asthma in adults and school age children.”2 What’s more, “Up to 72% of asthmatics report their asthma is triggered by fragrance. Asthmatics and others that are negatively impacted by fragrance often have difficulties working, obtaining medical care, and going about activities of daily living because of others’ use of scented products.”3
Additionally, “According to AARDA, approximately 50 million Americans [or] 20 percent of the population… suffer from some 80 autoimmune diseases.”4 The term, “autoimmune disease” refers to a variety of “chronic illnesses that involve almost every human organ system.”5 With autoimmunity, “the body’s immune system becomes misdirected, attacking the very organs it was designed to protect.”6
Furthermore, “Approximately 12.6% of the population suffers from multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), a condition in which they experience reactions from exposure to low concentrations of common chemicals…”7 Many living with MCS (or Environmental Illness) were once healthy, vibrant people. “MCS usually starts with either an acute or chronic toxic exposure, after which this initial sensitivity broadens to include many other chemicals and common irritants…”8 Many experts have found that once a person becomes reactive to a chemical or toxin, their intolerance is rarely reversible.
Often the term “sensitivity” evokes a belief that the person’s reaction is a simple nuisance or dislike for a smell. On the contrary, MCS is “…marked by multiple symptoms in multiple organ systems (usually the neurological, immune, respiratory, skin, ‘GI,’ and/or musculoskeletal) that recur chronic-ally in response to multiple chemical exposures. MCS Symptoms commonly include difficulty breathing, sleeping and/or concentrating, memory loss, migraines, nausea, abdominal pain, chronic fatigue, aching joints and muscles, and irritated eyes, nose, ears, throat and/or skin. In addition, some with MCS show impaired balance and increased sensitivity not just to odors but also to loud noises, bright lights, touch, extremes of heat and cold, and electromagnetic fields.”9
For those living with asthma, immune disorders and/or MCS, just attending a family gathering, going to the grocery store or attending a church service may expose them to toxic chemicals that could make them very ill. These reactions are very serious and have changed the lives of millions. Sadly, because they have to avoid public situations and even having people in their own homes, they often experience isolation, loneliness, lose their jobs and may even become homebound.
Most of us are aware that such things as pollution and car exhaust fumes are not good for us. We even realize that sometimes a work environment, like a lab or factory can be hazardous. However, most do not even think twice when entering a building, automobile or even a home that may contain paint, mold, glue, stain, newer carpets, vinyl upholstery, plastic, rubber, gases from new cars, smoke or household cleaners.
Alarmingly, the culprits most of us will never even give a thought to being hazardous are our beloved perfumes, colognes and fragranced products. But aren’t these made from natural ingredients like flowers and herbs? Actually, “Perfume formulations changed sometime around the late 70s and early 80s. Today, they are approximately 95-100% synthetic (man-made).”10 Even seemingly harmless fragrances in our favorite soap, deodorant, lotion, powder, candles, air freshener and laundry products can be full of these toxic substances.
Author Connie Pitts explained, “Perfumes, colognes, and many other scented products contain an abundance of harmful chemicals, many of which are listed on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste List. They also include numerous carcinogenic chemicals, neurotoxins, respiratory irritants, solvents, aldehydes, hundreds of untested and unregulated petrochemicals, phthalates (which can act as hormone disrupters), narcotics, and much more.”11
For the average person, short term exposures to these environmental, every day household products and perfumes might seem “bothersome” at times, but for others they can be detrimental. Nevertheless, the frightening reality is that even for those who consider themselves healthy and impervious to these substances, breathing these toxins and allowing them to absorb through the skin can still be wreaking havoc to their immune system, cells and organs.
Why Should the Church Be Concerned?
Given that many with asthma, immune disorders and MCS take the chance of becoming ill when they come to church or must stop attending all together, we can all do our part to help. We do not want to have barricades in our church that keep people from attending and fellowshipping with us. “Any barrier that prevents access – or precludes the ability to choose to access – is a barrier.”12
Moreover, we are all part of the body and “…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… God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it;” (1 Corinthians 12:22-26).
At first glance, we may presume we do not have enough people in our congregation who struggle with these issues to justify the sacrifice of refraining from the use of these products. However, if we take for example a church of 200 members, that could mean there are approximately 20 with asthma, 40 with an autoimmune disorder or 25 with MCS. Still doesn’t seem like there could be that many in our congregation who have these issues? Well, we are probably unaware of many of them in our community, because they are unable to attend regularly or at all.
Even so, regardless of whether there are 40 people affected or just one, Jesus said, “’I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me…I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me’” (Matthew 25:43 & 45). So, let’s take down these barricades that stand in our church!
8 Ways to Break Down the Barriers
Here are 8 ways to create better accessibility in the church, inclusion in the body and fellowship with people living with reactions to chemicals and fragrances:
1) Policy or Plea: The church can establish a policy or plea to the members and regular visitors not to use perfumes, colognes and fragrances when attending a church service or function. Many churches, businesses, hospitals and doctor’s offices are adopting this strategy and the idea is quickly spreading around the world. Certainly, we can sacrifice not wearing these items for a couple of hours a week, so that our brothers and sisters may attend our services and activities. “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD’” (Leviticus 19:14).
Steps to implementing this policy or plea would include: Making regular announcements, posting signs around the church, publishing notices in the bulletins, creating flyers to be distributed, sending out emails and placing information on the website. Furthermore, this is the same kind of action we would take for a child who has a serious allergy to peanuts. Many may fear that this would require turning away visitors. Nonetheless, when they see the signs and read the notices, they will know to return next time without it. What’s more, if the congregation refrains from using these products, this should not be an issue for a couple of visitors to attend. Besides, when a new person hears the announcements and sees the notices, they will often be moved to see how much the congregation loves its people.
2) No Fragrance Zone: For additional protection, this section can be added to the sanctuary to serve as a place for those who cannot sit near others who use any type of products that contain fragrances. For example: Fragranced laundry detergents, fabric softener, dryer sheets, deodorants, body soaps, lotions, talcum powder, shampoo, hair spray, etc. Simply designate several rows of pews with signs and/or ropes to signify that this section is a No Fragrance Zone. Put this this section in an area where people can have easy access to an outside entrance, restrooms and away from high traffic areas.
Caution: This section alone is not a viable solution. Perfumes and fragrances permeate the air and linger in the hallway, sanctuary, bathrooms and lobby, they are not easily contained. “Scented products are volatile substances and get into the air quickly. Once in the air, containment to a defined space is impossible. Further, scented products are designed to diffuse into the air and linger.”13 As a result, placing a “Fragrance Free Section” without walls to surround it will not protect a person from all the fragrances wafting through the church. It would be much like putting a non-smoking table in the middle of a smoke-filled restaurant. In addition, those needing to use this section would not be able to access the rest of the church. Therefore, in order for this section to be functional, the majority of the congregation must refrain from using perfumes and colognes.
3) Fragrance-Free Room: This is a separate room off of the sanctuary. Many churches with the means to create this room are reaching out to those with the most severe cases of chemical intolerance in their community. Please note that this room can be very isolating for those using it. Therefore, it is not to be used as a solution for all with chemical reactions when other less segregating options are possible. This room is for those who cannot tolerate any other option and provides protection from perfume, cologne, synthetic fragrances, mold, chemical cleaning products, furniture, carpets, etc. The room is sealed off with walls, a glass window to see the service and has a door to a direct entrance/exit, as well as a bathroom. It must be constructed with low or no VOC paints, as well as be free of formaldehyde, chemicals, rubber and plastic construction materials, furniture, and flooring.
This is a great way to give those with intolerance to all environmental issues, a place to worship and fellowship. On the other hand, we must “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3). We can do this by making sure our activities and functions are Fragrance-Free, for those who can attend, as well as keeping them a part of the congregation by calling, visiting or sending cards to them at home.
4) Custodial Practices: The church staff can have the cleaning crew use non-toxic cleaning products like baking soda, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide or other environmentally safe products. Moreover, they should not use “air fresheners” in the church or bathrooms. Instead, exhaust fans and air purifiers can do the job.
5) Renovations and Grounds: The church staff can create a list of members who have reactions to chemicals and fragrances. They should call people on the list when someone paints the walls, shampoos the carpet, replaces the carpet, gets new furniture or uses glues, insecticides, stains, polishes, etc. In addition, signs should be placed on the doors to notify all members and visitors of the use of these products.
6) Fragrance-Free Activities: When having a special church activity such as a potluck, luncheon, meeting or retreat, the event can be deemed “Fragrance-Free” for everyone to enjoy. Members should be notified they are not to wear products containing perfume, cologne or fragrances to the event. This can be done simply by posting this information along with the notices for the event in bulletins, emails, websites, flyers and along with announcements.
7) Consideration of Others: For the benefit of the entire congregation and especially those with immune disorders, when we have a cold or a virus, we can stay home from church, get some rest and read our Bible. God will understand. It is better than infecting 5 more families, who in turn infect 5 more families, etc. – causing people to miss work, activities and possible hospitalization for those battling illness. Even when we are “coming down with” a virus or we are “getting over” something, we can still be contagious. Thus, we should be cognizant of those living with immune dysfunctions, by staying away from them and their family members.
8) Visitation and Fellowship: Before visiting someone in their home or inviting them to ours, we should ask those living with asthma, chronic illness, immune issues or environmental disorders what fragrances, lotions, soaps, deodorants, candles, air fresheners, detergents, cleaning products, etc. they cannot tolerate.
Thank you for your desire to provide an environment with less chemicals and fragrances, making it possible for many people to worship and fellowship in our churches! Without everyone’s help, just attending a service can put many at risk of having mild to severe reactions that may last several hours or even several weeks. With it, many can enjoy a service with less risk of exposure and the barriers can be brought down for those in our community who have not been able to attend.
Copyright © 2007 Where Is God Ministries. “Is Your Church Making People Sick?” Visitors may print up to 5 copies of this pamphlet. To publish or distribute, you must contact WIGM for permission. Order this pamphlet and WIGM’s booklet, Not By Sight: A Guide to Ministering to Believers Living with Chronic Illness and Pain!
1) ALA, “Asthma: FAQs.” American Lung Association of Texas www.texaslung.org/educationalresources/diseases/asthma/asthmafaq.htm (accessed August 13, 2005). Introduction.
2) FPINVA, “Fragrances by Design: Materials that quickly get into the air.” Fragranced Products Information Network www.fpinva.org (accessed August 13, 2005). Introduction.
3) FPINVA, “Fragrances by Design: Materials that quickly get into the air.” Introduction.
4) AARDA, “Press Release: Autoimmunity Named a Leading Cause of Death Among Women in New Study.” American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. www.aarda.org/press_release_display.php?ID=10 (accessed June 15, 2005). Conclusion.
5) AARDA, “Autoimmune Disease in Women- The Facts.” American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. www.aarda.org/women.html (accessed June 15, 2005). Introduction.
6) AARDA, “Autoimmune Disease in Women- The Facts.” Introduction.
7) Brandon Adams, “More than 12% of Population Reports Extreme Sensitivity to Low Levels of Common Chemicals. Journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), (September 2003). http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/press/12pop.html (accessed June 15, 2005). Body.
8) MCSRR, “Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome- Fact Sheet,” Introduction.
9) Connie Pitts, “Featured Author. Connie Pitts – Get a Whiff of This: Perfumes (Fragrances) – The Invisible Chemical Poisons. Integrative Ink. www.integrativeink.com/html/articles/archiveauthorcpitts.phtml (Accessed June 15, 2005). Body
10) MCSRR, “Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome- Fact Sheet.” MCS Referral and Resources. www.mcsrr.org/factsheets/mcsdisorders.html (accessed June 15, 2005). Introduction.
11) Pitts, “Featured Author Connie Pitts.” Body.
12) FPINVA, “Fragrance Facts and Fiction.” Fragranced Products Information Network http://www.fpinva.org/Background/facts.htm (accessed August 13, 2005). Body.
13) Melissa Kaplan. “Chemical Sensitivities.” Melissa Kaplan’s Chronic Neuroimmune Diseases. www.anapsid.org/cnd/mcs/. Introduction. MK’s CND provides information on CFS, FM, MCS, Lyme Disease and more.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.