Churches Partner with the County and the Community to Vaccinate Hundreds in Lorain

By Rick Wolcott*

“I think that right now the most important thing to do is to get shots in arms and if I can be a part of that in some way I’ll be there in a heartbeat,” said Jeffrey Czatt during a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Lorain on Sunday, March 7.

Czatt and several other members of Lorain Lighthouse UMC responded to an invitation from their pastor, Pastor Kelsey Orosan, to volunteer at the clinic.

“A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from Pastor Cody at one of our partner churches in Lorain. He explained that we would have the opportunity to vaccinate people in our congregations, particularly targeting the minority population in Lorain, if we could get 150 people signed up without advertising – using phone calls and personal relationships. Within 48 hours we had more than 250 people signed up,” Orosan said in explaining the origin of the clinic that vaccinated 325 people.

“I’m part of the pastors’ health coalition in Lorain County and we wanted to help with the vaccine and the pandemic, so about six of our churches got together and worked with Mercy Health parish nursing to set up a vaccination clinic on the date that the Lorain County Health Department gave us. Today is the final one of four clinics we’ve been able to host,” said Full Gospel Ministries Pastor Norva Ross, who worked 15 years with Mercy Health as a parish nurse.

Mercy Health director of Community Health Catherine Woskobick said that leadership at the faith-based organization knows the importance of connecting with people through church.

“We want to make sure that we reach out to people in their sacred spaces where they praise God. So, when you come to someone’s sacred space and you meet them there, we all believe in God and we believe that God brings us together to provide and that’s the best blessing of all.”

“We’ve been talking with the group of pastors and this pastors’ coalition since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Lorain County Health Department Public Information Officer Erin Murphy. “An area that our faith communities have helped us with are reaching vulnerable populations whether those are older adults whether those are African Americans because there is trust in their faith leadership we can work and communicate and partner with them to help build trust with us.”

“Today means for me, hope that our health officials, our community hospitals are doing everything necessary to get into the community and to make available these vaccinations,” said Bishop Tracy S. Malone, resident bishop of the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church. “The final hope for me is for the churches to come together to be partners with our hospitals, with our medical community to make it possible to make this accessible to all persons. So that gives me hope.”

“It’s exciting to see at tangible events like this how much bigger the Kingdom is,” said Pastor Cody Rhynard of Great Lakes Church in Lorain, which hosted the vaccination clinic. “This is an interdenominational collaboration of churches across all kinds of different demographic lines and it’s just good to be a part of it.”

“To me this is part of what we should be doing,” said Orosan. “Jesus was about healing the whole person and God has gifted people uniquely. I think it’s a gift that we were able to get this vaccine. I take it seriously. It’s a responsibility and I know for me personally the joy I heard when I called some of the oldest folks in our congregation and said, ‘we have this opportunity for you,’ the fact it was the pastor calling them to be part of this it just brings joy to my soul because it means we are one step closer to getting back to the things we used to do.”

Forty members of the Lorain Lighthouse UMC congregation that Orsosan serves were vaccinated during the clinic, including some of the church’s most vulnerable congregants.

“For the church this will add even more safety measures and the feeling of being able to do more of the things we’ve been wanting to do for over a year now including being able to worship together in one space,” Czatt said.

“I’m looking forward to that so we can reach out to others,” added Lorain Lighthouse UMC member Susan Daggett, a registered nurse who administered vaccination shots at the clinic. “When this opportunity came up, I just had to volunteer.”

“By moving these vaccinations forward we do look forward to having more normalcy return and certainly faith-based life will be an area that will see a lot of improvement because the very nature of faith-based life is to be together,” Murphy shared.

“I think this is what the Lord would do. It’s putting your faith in action and caring for the community in not only a scripture way but a natural way,” Ross said. “Four or five older pastors are getting vaccinated today and I think that is wonderful.”

Malone said that she sees clergy as first responders.

“When persons are in need, when persons are hurting, when persons are dying it is our clergy who are among the first to respond to provide care. So, to know that our clergy are getting vaccinated so they can be protected as they go into these vulnerable situations and to be available to be fully accessible it means a lot that they will be protected as they seek to care for others,” Malone said.

Orosan shared that one way the church cares for others is by helping to educate about the vaccine.

“I think it’s really important that church leaders and clergy work hard to fight against the disinformation and misinformation about the vaccine particularly in communities of color and if that means that we have to step up and do the legwork surrounding that and educating and getting people access to the vaccine that’s what we need to be doing,” she said.

Murphy stated that the three vaccines that have received emergency authorization – the vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson – are all good vaccines.

“A lot of people have looked at efficacy and effectiveness and they’re wondering, ‘which one is better?’ ‘which one is more effective?’ and the truth of the matter is that all of these vaccines are developed to try and prevent adverse outcomes from getting COVID-19. Someone with the vaccine could get sick potentially still but it’s going to be a milder case. All of these vaccines are able to prevent hospitalizations and deaths which of course are the biggest adverse outcomes that we are trying to avoid,” she said.

Bishop Malone was one of the 325 people who received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the clinic on Sunday.

“I want people to know that to make the choice to get vaccinated to me is a faith choice and I say that to mean that it is a risk because we are still trying to figure out what the efficacies are but we’ve seen enough evidence that its working and I think it’s a faith step to take to protect ourselves and I think this is one of the best ways to protect ourselves from the virus and by protecting ourselves we’re helping to protect others and the sooner we all get vaccinated the safer we all will be. That’s what I want the community to know, what I want my clergy to know, what I want my churches to know, that I’m stepping out on faith, I’m taking this risk to get myself vaccinated with the hope to inspire others to step out on faith and take that same risk. We will all be better for being vaccinated,” she said.

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.