Aug 19, 2021 | By Heather Hahn | UM News

The Rev. Hammett Evans knew his Arkansas church needed to make a change after five fully vaccinated worshippers tested positive for COVID-19.

The five experienced mild symptoms or none at all, said Evans, senior pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“The message they want to get out is that the vaccines work,” he stressed.

However, he and his congregation weren’t taking any chances. For the week of July 11, Asbury went back to online-only services to ensure the outbreak did not spread further. When in-person services resumed in mid-July, the church required worshippers to wear masks and keep physically distanced. The church youth group also began meeting outside again.

“I think we just want to be as cautious as possible, especially since we have children with us,” Evans said. The under-12 youngsters in the church and its preschool are not yet eligible for the vaccines. “We want to take care of the kids.”

Asbury turned out to be ahead of the curve.

With the more-contagious delta variant of COVID-19 surging across the United States, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now urge even vaccinated people to mask up again in high- and substantial-transmission areas.

Many United Methodist congregations are following that advice, with encouragement from their bishops. Some churches have gone even further: opting to return to online-only activities.

Whatever extra precautions they are taking, church leaders also are working to get more shots in arms. Preachers are trying to ease fears and correct misinformation. Congregations are organizing clinics and offering gift certificates as incentives for vaccine holdouts.

The current United Methodist efforts are part of a long tradition. People called Methodists have championed public health going back to John Wesley, who established London’s first free medical clinic.

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