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Citing personal health issues, bishop bans use of regular palms

Citing personal health issues, bishop bans use of regular palms

Members of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Allegheny this morning were read a pastoral letter from their bishop, The Rt. Rev. Wilbert Smith, explaining that 2012 would be the last year that “customary green palms” could by employed for liturgical purposes. Smith has effectively banned the use of regular palms henceforth.

His letter says, in part,

Long after I joined The Episcopal Church in college, coming in from a looser, non-liturgical setting, I have finally learned that I am deathly allergic to the fruit of the single-seeded drupe in common palms. Most of the time the fruit only remains on the palms in churches as traces of a fine particulate powder, but even that substance can become airborne with minimal effort. That turns out to be sufficient to be deadly for me.

In truth, this was a journey of some twenty years. After several instances of having reactions so violent that I almost died, my doctor has helped me narrow it down, and we figured out that the problems always and only occurred on Palm Sundays.

Therefore, in good faith, and as a sign of support for me in my ministry (especially as I travel around the diocese from year to year for Palm Sunday), I ask that from now going forward, our congregations only employ plastic palms. I realize I am in no position to further qualify, but if members of the clergy and representatives of Altar Guild would please see to it that these are not the tacky kind found in tropic-themed restaurants or around swimming pools, I do think it would add back some level of ambiance to an already awkward situation.

Smith acknowledges the condition – ceroxylon anaphylaxis – to be so rare “as to be absurd,” and that he is chagrined to have to place a ban on regular palms.


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Bill Dilworth

They used to, Dr Shy. No reason we couldn’t revive the custom.

In parts of Russia the only plant anywhere near to looking not quite like a stick at this time of year was the pussywillow, so they used those instead of palms and the name if the Sunday popularly became Pussywillow Sunday. It’s now such a part of the tradition that I’ve been in ethnically Russian parishes where, even though they ordered real palms like everybody else, branches of pussywillow were provided to cover everybody’s tradition bases.

Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.

Fortunately for us, we can just get ours from the trees outside. The main task is to wash them to get the dust off, and then they are good to go and essentially free. I’ve often wondered why church in more temperate climes did not simply use other branches, but I guess “palm” Sunday implies the need for “palms.”

tobias haller

Thanks for the direction to “Eco-Palms”! I could tell some of my parishioners were becoming a bit “green” with envy. 😉

Ann Fontaine

We used them this year – got them from Eco-Palms. they are fluffier and softer

Caoilin Galthie

They are Eco-Palms available as a Fair Trade product through Lutheran World Relief.

Maybe this can be a fruit of full communion with the ELCA?


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