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Wisconsin man invents sanitary communion wafer dispenser

Inventor Doug Henricksen of New Richmond shows how his germ-free dispenser delivers communion wafers into worshippers' hands.

NEW RICHMOND, Wis. - The current panic over the H1N1 flu pandemic couldn't have happened at a better time for a local inventor here.

Doug Henricksen of rural New Richmond is close to ramping up production on his newest invention: a germ-free dispenser for communion wafers.

Henricksen has begun marketing the Communalabra Germ-Free Communion Host Dispensing System to churches worldwide via the Internet. Reaction to the product from pastors and lay leaders has been promising so far.

"Everybody I've showed it to has loved the product and loved the idea behind it," Henricksen said.

He's now gathering orders for the dispenser once the first Communalabras are produced.

"It's important to pre-sell as much as you can, because that helps you to get the financing you need," Henricksen said.

Henricksen continues to search for investors to help get his idea into production, which he hopes will happen within months.

Henricksen came up with the idea for the dispenser more than three years ago while attending church. It was the cold and flu season, the pastor had a cold, and surrounding parishioners were coughing and sneezing.

When it came time to take communion, Henricksen said the thought of all the germs being spread via the handing out of communion wafers turned his stomach.

"I thought, 'This is a breeding ground for passing germs,' " he said. "I decided taking communion was probably not as clean as you'd like it to be."

Before beginning work on his invention, the 1975 graduate of Indianhead Technical Institute in Superior, Wis., decided to research the topic of germs generated in worship.

What he found out was astounding. A simple search of the Internet uncovered more than 3,000 articles and studies concerning the spread of germs at church.

It turns out that Henricksen isn't the only person worried about such things. During the cold and flu season, about 30 percent of many congregations stop taking the holy sacraments or decide not to attend church at all.

Still, as Henricksen began working on his idea three years ago, few church leaders recognized the value of creating a germ-free communion environment.

All that has changed since the H1N1 scare has escalated.

"A lot of people have had a concern about the cleanliness of worship, but people didn't want to talk about it," he said. "But the H1N1 flu has finally brought the whole issue to a head. I guess I'm in the right place at the right time."

He's meeting with injection molding companies in the region to find a manufacturer to work with. Henricksen is also looking for a contractor that can put a metal finish on the Communalabra so that Catholic churches can use the dispenser.

"The Pope has ruled that all new altar ware needs to be made of precious metal," Henricksen explained. "The Catholic Church is 50 percent of the world market."

Henricksen also hopes to produce a less expensive, plastic version of the dispenser for churches that may not be able to afford the high-end model.