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.