Faith and COVID-19
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Day after day, a long line of cars stretches through the parking lot of the College Hills Church of Christ in Lebanon, Tenn., west of Nashville.
The crowds aren’t coming for a special gospel meeting or Vacation Bible School.
Rather, they’re showing up to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“As a church, our DNA is to serve and bless our community. We are a ‘hospital’ for the sick, so it seemed only natural to open our doors to the medical profession as they seek to bless our community,” said Kevin Owen, lead minister for the College Hills church. He alluded to Jesus’ statement in Mark 2:17 that “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”
The Middle Tennessee congregation was approached by Wilson County officials back in December. Since January, more than 22,000 people have made their way through the drive-thru vaccine site, which is housed under one of the church awnings.
Numerous other congregations across the U.S. also have opened their buildings — allowing state and county health officials to take over their facilities for varying amounts of time to help inoculate residents.
“We had discussed it in late November, December,” said David Perryman, an elder at the Southern Oaks Church of Christ in Chickasha, Okla., southwest of Oklahoma City. “We decided then if we could get access to somebody to do a clinic, we wanted to do that.”
The vaccine clinic at the Southern Oaks building was conducted by the Indian Health Services, a clinic from another town about 45 minutes down the road.
Perryman said clinic officials were excited to find a location that would allow them to offer the vaccines in the central Oklahoma community.
When the day came, about 250 people had signed up. Perryman said the clinic ran smoothly, and people seemed grateful for the opportunity.
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“Members are enthusiastically getting behind this,” said Roger Woods, elder and minister for the Walled Lake Church of Christ in Michigan. “People are volunteering and excited to help.”
The Detroit-area congregation is gearing up for a clinic at its building. Woods said the clinic scheduling happened unexpectedly. He was at a funeral and ran into an old friend, whose daughter is a pharmacist. It just so happened her company was looking for places to host vaccine clinics. After a brief conversation and a few text messages, the Walled Lake church clinic was scheduled for late April.
It’s not just congregations that are serving as host sites. Colleges and universities associated with Churches of Christ are also stepping up.
The Oklahoma Christian clinic — a partnership with a hospital — was opened to students and employees as well as the community. In all, more than 700 people were vaccinated on campus back in mid-March.
“We have had many opportunities to both serve and receive blessings throughout the pandemic,” said Jeff McCormack, OC’s chief academic officer. “The partnerships we have been able to form with healthcare providers and suppliers as well as city and state officials will last for years to come. Our campus will be a healthier place and an important resource for the city.”
At Freed-Hardeman, more than 300 students, faculty and staff signed up to get vaccinated on campus in coordination with the local health department.
“We would love to see a semester where we have very few students that have to isolate or quarantine,” FHU President David Shannon told WBBJ-TV. “We look forward to the social distancing and the masks being a part of our history.”
ACU was wrapping up its second of two vaccination clinics at press time. The university was happy to partner with the city health department to be able to help those in their community who were wanting to be vaccinated, administrators said.
“While ACU does not have plans to require the vaccine, we are encouraging vaccination,” Tamara Long, ACU’s vice president for enrollment and student life, said. “In addition, faculty from our biology department are providing educational information sessions to anyone wanting to better understand the vaccine.”
While the congregations and university officials saw the vaccine opportunity as a way to “love our neighbors,” the clinics did not come without protest.
Some Christians are opposed to the vaccine and made sure church leaders were aware of their concerns.
“There are some individuals in our congregation who aren’t going to be vaccinated, and we are cognizant of that and respectful of that,” Perryman said. “What we wanted to do was give everybody who wanted to have a shot an opportunity to get vaccinated. That was our goal, and we have accomplished that.”
As an elder, he said, the last year has come with a multitude of challenges. Another elder, who is a doctor, has helped guide the steps the Oklahoma congregation took. The church has been meeting in-person — with masks — for a while and has had no known cases of the virus spreading among church members.
In Michigan, Wood said, “We have members who have let us know they are not getting vaccinated. Our approach has been, ‘OK. That’s your decision. It’s between you and your family.’”
Back in Tennessee, Jon Reynolds, worship minister for the College Hills church, said, “We, from the very beginning, have set the tone that during this pandemic we are going to be gracious to other people.”
The College Hills church looked at the opportunity to open its building, Reynolds said, as a way to be the “hands and feet of Jesus” in the community.
Owen added, “Years from now, I may not remember what series I watched on Netflix or how well my sports team did in 2020.
“I will, however, remember vividly the thousands of cars that lined up daily to get their first or second dose of the vaccine.”
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