WASHINGTON (RNS)—In a socially distant but united “confidence event” at the Washington National Cathedral, leaders of the Washington area’s faith, medical and political worlds assembled to encourage people of various religions to get COVID-19 vaccinations.
“As people of faith who are called to love and care for our neighbors, we should be leading the way in this effort,” said the cathedral’s dean, Randy Hollerith, on March 16, calling the availability of vaccines “a great blessing.”
Melissa Rogers, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, spoke about the Biden administration’s support of alliances of government and faith groups to expand public information about the vaccines.
“This is one great example of a partnership between government and faith-based organizations,” Rogers said. “And, as President Biden has recognized, faith-based organizations can play key roles in helping Americans get vaccinated.”
National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins and infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, both of whom appeared at a similar cathedral forum two weeks before Thanksgiving, took turns speaking about perspectives and myths about the vaccine, continuing efforts to counter hesitancy and misinformation.
“As a believer and a scientist, I can see the opportunity to use the tools of science as a chance to be part of God’s plan for healing,” said Collins. “The vaccines have in many ways for many people been an answer to prayer. They are safe and effective beyond what we had a right to expect and yet they will not help people by sitting on the shelf. They need to be injected into the arms of those who need them.”
He urged churches and other houses of worship to lead in vaccine education and for their leaders to get the vaccine to show “there’s nothing to fear here and there’s much to be gained.”
Fauci told cathedral participants and the online audience “it’s not possible to get COVID-19 from the vaccine” and “we will get through this and we will get through it by vaccination.”
Other speakers emphasized the importance of community, quoting an African proverb, a Jewish metaphor and a letter of Martin Luther King Jr.
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Setting the example
Pastor Patricia Hailes Fears of Washington’s Fellowship Baptist Church then walked to an empty chair at the front of the cathedral, took off her jacket, rolled up her sleeve and sat still as a white-coated medical professional injected the vaccine in Fears’ left arm. The clergy and scientists who sat at a distance around her applauded.
Minutes later, a couple dozen other religious leaders—of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths—received their shots from local health officials positioned at vaccination stations around the nave where chairs usually are placed for worship in non-COVID times.
The forum is one of numerous initiatives between faith leaders and health professionals to address the pandemic in general and specifically encourage vaccinations when some people have been hesitant or resistant to them.
Earlier in the day, Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs hosted a webinar at which it and other partners released a two-page “quick analysis guide” that faith leaders and health and development professionals across the globe can use to determine how and where to participate in the rollout of the vaccine.
“It’s never too early or too late to start building these relationships, establishing common ground and speaking of mutual interests and concerns and ways to move forward for successful collaboration,” said Olivia Wilkinson, director of research at the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities.