Fig Tree survey gathers COVID, vaccination info
The Fig Tree, with support of a grant from the Department of Health, is doing a survey of rural, urban and ethnic congregations and nonprofit agencies to learn about and share what difference increased numbers of vaccinations will mean in the lives of their communities and ministries.
"We encourage readers to respond to, and to mail or email responses to several questions, as well as to share stories," said Mary Stamp. "In this issue, we offer some examples of comments from a bishop about changes, from two local congregations and an agency that tell their COVID/vaccination stories."
The questions are:
• How has COVID affected your congregation or agency and its ministries or services?
• What ministries or programs did you have? What ministries or programs have you added or closed?
• About what percent of or number in your congregation, rural community or agency staff is vaccinated?
• What difference does it make for members to be vaccinated?
• Have you done education about vaccinations? What are attitudes about being vaccinated?
• Has the church/agency served as a vaccination site?
• What difference has COVID made to your congregation, community or agency in transportation, food, homeless/housing, emergency, public health or other needs?
• What gaps have you identified during COVID? What gaps existed before COVID?
• What impact will vaccinations have?
Email replies to firstname.lastname@example.org by May 15.
Churches shift from diocesan to local worship
Episcopal Diocese of Spokane has been holding common worship experiences for the diocese, but after Easter, congregations are back worshipping on their own in some form or another, and common worship offerings on the website are discontinued.
"It has been a year of highlighting the virtual worship many of our congregations have been doing, and we hope that members took the time to pop into a service from a different church here and there along the way," said Bishop Gretchen Rehberg.
The diocese will, however, continue on with its home worship resources that are posted weekly on the diocesan website.
The bishop also encourages people to visit the Faiths4Vaccines website for resources, including a video produced by the Skinner Leadership Institute to learn how to be part of encouraging vaccinations and ending the COVID-19 pandemic.
For information, call 624-3191 or visit spokanediocese.org.
Small church in small town had been social distancing for years, says pastor
Tara Leininger is pastor and mayor in Metaline Falls.Life at Metaline Falls Congregational United Church of Christ (MFCUCC) has been "pretty quiet," said the pastor and Metaline Falls mayor Tara Leininger.
"We were shut down from March 2020 until we moved into the first 'phase 3,' with masks, hand stations, gloves and no communion," she said.
The "strangest irony" for the congregation was making sure to "social distance" in worship, because the church has been doing that for years, she said.
"With our small numbers, and the Protestant custom of never sitting next to anyone unless you have to, everyone has been six feet apart for the past 15 years," Tara quipped.
During the closure, she sent out bulletins and a written sermon. A few of the congregation tried online worship.
"Once we were able to re-open last June, we discovered how precious feelings of community and fellowship were," she said.
The community outreach that MFCUCC did before the pandemic continued without much change, and they added the "Community Pantry," which continues to be used.
"I've been dealing with this not only as a pastor but also as the mayor," Tara said. "While we have our 'pandemic deniers,' most everyone has been good about masking and other protocols.
"We are in an area, because of our remoteness, small population and fewer crowds, that there were no major outbreaks," she said. "Our school district handled the end of the 2020 school year well. Businesses closed and our few restaurants went to take-out only. We have been blessed in that we lost no businesses from pandemic closures, but it has been a tough year none-the-less."
The school continues to be vigilant with few outbreaks, but is glad to be back in the classroom. Businesses continue to reopen as spring and Phase 3 eases the community into, "what we hope," is a positive summer season, she said.
Most in the congregation are now vaccinated. The county health department has a drive-in station at the Tiger Fire Department, or residents can schedule a time with the New Health/Selkirk clinic.
Tara and her husband, Don, recently had their second shots.
"I was so glad when I was finally eligible for the shot!" Tara said. "Around town, I know those who won't get the vaccine so we just do what we can to take precautions and pray that everyone stays healthy.
"What surprised us most was that it wasn't so much innovations in response, but was an affirmation that our church's small, but visible presence in the community remained strong."
The church's Easter Sunrise service was socially distanced, masked and "a welcome new beginning," she said, "as we continue to be a 'tiny but fierce' presence in our community."
With that in mind, Tara led a break-out session at the Pacific Northwest Conference of the UCC Annual Meeting April 30 to May 2 on "Small Churches, Tiny But Fierce."
For information, call 466-3301 or email email@example.com.
Building closed, but church active, vaccinated members ready to return
Although Shalom United Church of Christ in Richland closed its building, services went online and the church remained active in the community. Worship was on SoundCloud and then video. After-service feedback is on Zoom, as are most meetings and ministries. The music director posts anthems on Facebook, drawing attention to the church and its music, said a church leader in response to The Fig Tree survey on COVID and vaccinations.
Youth and Christian education programs were on hiatus until fall. This spring they are meeting bi-weekly with monthly meet ups outside, masked and distanced.
With plans to return to the sanctuary in May, pre-recorded services will continue and transition to live streaming. That will continue because online services allow people who no longer live in the town to "attend" and participate.
"Members who can get a vaccine have or are in the process because vaccinations are readily available in Richland. Some who are vaccinated are eager to return to in-person activities," said the leader. "Most members are positive about vaccines, but some in the community are not."
MEBA helped businesses access resources
AHANA-Multi-Ethnic Business Association (MEBA) promotes mitigation practices and resources for businesses to stay open, and assure safety among clients, employees and their families, reported Maria Gutierrez, a member of the AHANA-MEBA outreach team.
African Hispanic Asian Native American (AHANA)'s and MEBA's work has been mostly through in-person encounters.
"Closeness to business owners allows better understanding of their businesses, struggles and needs, not only short term from the pandemic, but also mid- and long-term," Maria said.
"We work hard to put as many resources in hands of minority-owned businesses not only for them to open or stay open, but also for them to become more robust and expand their possibilities," she said. "We are committed to partner with big organizations to explore and implement diversity vendor programs."
AHANA-MEBA leaders are heartened that some business owners they talked to encourage employees to be vaccinated. In many cases, they found a vaccination clinic for them.
At the same time, they are frustrated that some owners or employees still do not believe in vaccination, don't care or are reluctant to get it.
Maria won't know percentages until AHANA-MEBA start their vaccination campaign.
Given that site visits are valuable, as more people are vaccinated, the less risk their team will have of exposure to COVID. They will also have more flexibility in those encounters.
"We miss in-person group training sessions and community gatherings, and we have been forced to be creative in finding alternative ways to stay engaged and increase our organization's engagement with the community," Maria said.
"We educated business owners and provided materials they can share with employees, their families and friends on the virus. We are starting an education campaign on vaccination," she said.
Attitudes they meet include some who do not care, some linking any kind of vaccination with autism or other illnesses, some who have religious beliefs that prevent them from being vaccinated and some who are hesitant for cultural reasons.
"We promoted a vaccination site the Hispanic Business Professional Association organized among Hispanics. It was a success," said Maria, who is principal at ASAP Translation Services.
AHANA-MEBA has a contract with the Department of Health to educate people on vaccinations and increase access to them.
For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, May, 2021