When around 50 people were suddenly missing from the pews at a church in Washington, D.C. late last year, the pastor knew that something was wrong, but he wasn't sure what was causing the mass exodus.
After speaking with church members, though, the Rev. John Harmon figured out exactly why one quarter of his church body at Trinity Episcopal Church had abruptly disappeared: people stopped attending out of fear of the international Ebola crisis, NPR reported.
Considering that the church is made up of people from more than 20 countries — with some originally coming from West Africa — many members were worried that their fellow parishioners would travel abroad and potentially bring the deadly virus back with them.
So, they fled the pews.
"Some folks called to say, 'I'm not coming to church because I don't know who's traveling [to West Africa],'" Harmon, who was born in Liberia and came to America back in 1982, told NPR.
The attendance situation was so problematic, though, that Harmon ended up taking time away from preaching in October to publicly address Ebola concerns, allowing doctors to also speak about the virus. But he didn't stop there.
The pastor also distributed hand sanitizer, told congregants that they were free to bow or nod rather than shake hands and, most notably, asked anyone traveling to any location abroad to avoid church for the following three weeks as a precaution, NPR reported.
Since these changes were implemented, attendance is nearly back to where it was before the Ebola panic began.
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