Evangelical Christian and Orthodox Jewish Leaders Offer Spaces for Vaccine Distribution

Elaine Chambers goes over a coronavirus vaccination pamphlet while resting after receiving the first dose of the vaccine at a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination site at St. Luke's Episcopal church, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP)

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Two national religious groups, one evangelical Christian, the other Orthodox Jewish, have teamed up to offer their sacred spaces for vaccine distribution, hoping to assist government officials and private companies in the effort to combat the ongoing pandemic.

In a recent editorial, Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Rabbi Moshe Hauer, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, made their pitch to help “anyone in need of vaccination, whether or not they are members of our congregations or of our neighborhoods.”

“We would welcome the opportunity for many of our facilities to serve as vaccination sites,” the USA Today editorial read.

The two asked that Americans “allow us to help you with coordinating appointments, and/or to provide you with the medically trained volunteers to administer the shots. We can also work with you to spread awareness to our communities about the importance of the vaccines."

They added: "Aside from the logistical benefits, members of our communities will feel reassured if they can come to their neighborhood houses of faith for the vaccination.”

Subscribe now

The effort is part of a larger movement among faith groups to aid others during the pandemic and assist with vaccination rollout.

“We feel like we have a lot to offer,” Hauer said in an interview with Religion News Service.

He argued that “everything” about his faith compels him to contribute to the historic vaccination effort, saying his tradition teaches not only that “our own lives as the greatest gift from God,” but also that it’s a “religious obligation” to care for the well-being of others.

A vaccine, Hauer explained, helps accomplish both goals, and there are practical benefits to using houses of worship as distribution sites.

“Many people haven’t wandered far from their homes for a year, and it might be a little easier for them to go to a familiar house of faith in their neighborhood than a convention center,” he said.

He also noted that getting a shot can be “scary for people,” but that getting it “in familiar terrain, in a place that is built to provide people who come with a sense of safety and confidence” could help minimize vaccine hesitancy.

Before the USA Today op-ed, the Orthodox Union, NAE and other faith groups extended a similar offer to the incoming administration during a Jan. 7 meeting between several religious organizations and various Biden transition team officials, such as his COVID Equity Task Force chair and his picks for U.S. Health and Human Services secretary and surgeon general.

The religious leaders say they have not heard back from Biden’s team, and the White House did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

But Hauer’s group has also been in contact with state officials, and government representatives in New York and New Jersey have already expressed interest. According to Hauer, the Orthodox Union gave officials from both states a list of their affiliated houses of worship that have the necessary equipment to store and provide vaccines, such as proper refrigeration.

Both the NAE and the Orthodox Union have been in contact with major pharmacies as well, such as CVS and Walgreens. Hauer said the companies seemed particularly interested in using religious facilities in areas that lack pharmacies. An NAE spokesperson said a list provided to CVS includes the locations of buildings belonging to the Salvation Army.

CVS did not respond to requests for comment.

In December, United Methodist Bishop Thomas Bickerton offered the governor of New York use of all 421 UMC churches in his conference for vaccine distribution, and some churches in South CarolinaVirginiaFlorida and elsewhere already serve as vaccination sites. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week that the state’s vaccination plan includes the use of more than 300 churches and cultural centers.

Several prominent faith leaders have also taken the vaccine publicly to help health officials overcome vaccine hesitancy.

The Biden administration announced Tuesday (Jan. 26) that it intends to double the country’s vaccine supply by purchasing an additional 200 million doses to be delivered this summer, but it could be weeks or months before houses of worship are utilized at a large scale. In the meantime, many houses of worship have been transformed into COVID-19 testing sites, which could serve as a model for further use of their spaces.

Whenever the additional vaccines arrive, Hauer said, he and other religious Americans stand ready to assist.

“We’ve offered our help to everybody who will listen,” he said.

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

In order to keep this newfound sense of faith alive and to learn from the wisdom of others, I created a spiritual exercise out of interviewing people around the world about the role of faith changing their lives.
Imam Sultan was greatly revered for his compassionate outlook on life inspired by his faith. He was known for his interfaith leadership in the higher education field and as an active bridge builder.
The site was reported as having a significant number of Sikh employees, and the massacre has left the community shaken and in grief.
This is a sampling of sacred texts and statements, listed in alphabetical order by religion, that religious communities have used to engage in the work of public health amidst this global pandemic.
Ms. Moore discusses what an Office of Equity and Racial Justice does, how she and her team adapted amid the pandemic, and how religious communities are crucial partners for social change, connection, and healing.  
"We know that people of all faiths and philosophical traditions hold shared values that can serve as a foundation for a common life together."
How do we fight the evil and darkness during this time? No matter how small or how far we might be from the situation, we could use our voices to speak up, come to stand together as one human kind.
Musa writes an insightful analysis of data at the intersection of race and religion. He writes: "non-Black Americans seem to be fleeing religion because it’s become too political. Blacks seem to be leaving because it’s not political enough."
And as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins, the currently closed museum is highlighting these artifacts tied to Islam on its website's blog.
In light of the urgent need for care within our families, communities, and movements, where can and should interfaith leaders fit in?
In the United States, our laws assure the separation of Church and State. So Sikh and Muslim kids growing up in public schools will never be taught that Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem.
Vaisakhi, which falls April 13 or 14 depending on which of two dueling calendars one follows, marks the day in 1699 when Sikhism took its current form.
The presentation focused on how chaplains and spiritual life professionals can discover and utilize meaningful data to demonstrate the value of their work in higher education.
Still, there were glimmers that Ramadan 2021 could feel less restricted than last year, when Islam’s holiest period coincided with the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar commemorating Muhammad’s reception of the Qur’an, begins on Monday.
"Ramadan can be an opportunity for Muslims in interfaith relationships to introduce their partners to the core beliefs and teachings of Islam, as well as to the ways different Muslim cultures share what is a deeply communal experience."
This year, Ramadan will begin on Monday or Tuesday (April 12 or 13), depending on when Muslims around the world sight the new moon that signals the beginning of the lunar month.
"In the Qur’an, God – Exalted Be He – proclaims that we should ask the people endowed with knowledge…All the experts are saying the same thing: please get vaccinated and do it now."
"Among the topics educators must address to reduce bullying and to ensure representation in the classroom are religion and religious identity."
Whether I am based in Los Angeles, Washington DC, or Kansas City, I remain committed to building bridges of mutual respect and understanding among people of different backgrounds.
Biden said the partnership between the seminary and a community health center is one of many that are happening between religious and medical organizations across the nation.

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.