Impact of COVID-19 and vaccinations on commmunities of faith
Summer issue reports impact of COVID on faith communities, camps
During April and May, The Fig Tree, with a grant from the Department of Health, interviewed rural, urban and ethnic congregations, nonprofit agencies and the region's faith-based camp directors to discern what difference vaccinations are making in communities, ministries and camps. Many are back to in-person programs and report higher percentages of vaccinations among members than their overall communities.
Stories, which are what we do rather than just report generalities or statistics, are included not only in most pages of the summer issue but also will be online at thefigtree.org, honoring that each of those interviewed shared unique insights from their settings. Many also sent photos.
"We recognize that the interviews were at one point in time, and were reviewed and updated just before publication, but we also found pastors, lay people, camp staff and directors ready to adjust as changing dynamics of the pandemic emerge," said Mary Stamp, editor. "That flexibility, adaptability and readiness to respond to emerging needs is a witness to how faith communities operate in general, contrary to the assumption that faith communities are set in their ways."
Interviews, which were done by Marijke Fakasiieiki, development associate, Malcolm Haworth, directory editor, and Mary, gathered information not only on impacts within congregations but also on the outreach of congregations in their communities related to basic needs, services and advocacy.
Congregation learns value of respecting others during Covid
Stan Hughes, pastor of Waitsburg Presbyterian Church, said the church learned the value of respecting others during COVID.
In response to COVID, they hunkered down and, following the governor's directives, didn't meet until the end of June 2020, when they began meeting with social distancing and masks.
"Attendance dropped to 60 percent of what it was," he said. "People understand the need to respect others and do our best to assure the health of our congregation of mostly older people."
They suspended live meetings of the children and youth ministry until two months ago.
Stan estimated that 75 to 90 percent of members are vaccinated.
"There is a high degree of support in the congregation. In community, there's less," he guessed.
Now people feel more relaxed about interacting with each other. The fellowship hour was suspended, but reinstituted a few months ago—meeting outside.
A common concern for families is figuring out child care.
"The community has been responsive and generous to donate to the resource center and food bank, so there has been adequate support when people in need make requests," Stan said.
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Holy Temple Church of God in Christ finds new ways to minister
COVID has affected Holy Temple Church of God in Christ in Spokane, said the Rev. Ezra Kinlow, pastor.
"We have been back in our sanctuary for a month, but fewer than 50 percent are back, especially senior citizens. They are doing Facebook and YouTube while others come in person," he said. "Social media are a way to maintain participation. We have new systems, so we adjust."
"It's a different ballgame," said Ezra, who has no sense of how many members have had COVID. Only four reported having COVID and recovering.
Holy Temple COGIC arranged on Saturday, May 15, for a company to do COVID testing.
Ezra estimated that about 50 percent of his congregation have had vaccinations, but knows some don't want to take it.
"We do not advocate for it. It's up to them," he said, adding that he and his wife, Eleise, have been vaccinated.
"I'm unsure what God has allowed. We just deal with it and protect ourselves as we can," he said.
With 50 percent attending in person, they are allowed to sing. Singers take their masks off when they sing, and people leading worship take their masks off to speak, but everyone else is keeping their masks on. Some feel it restricts the volume of praising and response to have something over their faces, he said.
"We are positive and keep going, hoping and trusting the Lord will give a breakthrough," Ezra said. "I do not expect we will go back to doing things completely as we did before. Our ministry is different as we reach out to people and find new ways to minister."
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Sravasti Abbey encouraged people to be vaccinated
Sravasti Abbey, a Buddhist community near Newport, was able to put its monthly Sharing the Dharma Day, residential courses and meditation retreats online, said Thubten Chonyl.
"Participants have had to practice at home, but we led meditations online, held facilitated discussions over Zoom, and streamed the scheduled teachings. More teachings were added throughout 2020 in response to student demand for our programs during the pandemic," she said.
"We have let it be known that when we open—we are not yet—only fully vaccinated people will be able to visit," Thubten Chonyl said.
To educate people on vaccinations, the abbey posted photos of the abbess receiving a vaccination, directed people to information about His Holiness the Dalai Lama taking the vaccination, and have frequently spoken in online talks about the benefits of vaccination as part of the basic Buddhist ethic of non-harming and thinking of others, she said.
In Pend Oreille County, when they opened a mass vax site at the rodeo grounds, they welcomed all comers.
"Everyone in our resident community, aged 31 to 70, is fully vaccinated," Thubten Chonyl said. "We're looking forward to having guests when we open again."
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June 2021