When the Rev. Rodrick Burton began a recent weekly Bible study via Zoom, he opened with prayer and a special announcement. He encouraged everyone on the call to get the coronavirus vaccine.
Burton and his leadership team at New Northside Missionary Baptist Church in Jennings talk about the importance of the vaccine for Black people at least twice a week — midweek and Sunday services.
“I'm going to continue to message positive messages about the vaccine,” said Burton, who pastors a congregation of about 500.
Some Black preachers in the area are using their online services and social media channels to encourage members to take the vaccine because many are leery of it.
New Northside Missionary Baptist Church lost about 20 of its members last year, including about three congregants who died of COVID-19. Burton, also a member of the St. Louis Department of Health Clergy Advisory Board, said the loss of a few church leaders led him to discuss the vaccine as much as possible.
“My members said I just don't trust it,” Burton said. “I want to see what happens.”
Burton shares his platform with Black doctors and nurses who are members of his church to help build trust in the vaccine.
“My biggest concern is that people will drag their feet in getting it. And for me, it is very crystal clear, it is life or death," Burton said.
The Rev. Anthony Witherspoon, senior pastor of Washington Metropolitan AME Zion Church, also is apprehensive about some of his Black members missing out on being vaccinated because of lack of information.
“The Bible tells us the Bible's message that God wants us to be prosperous and in good health, and so if the vaccine is going to help us be on the way to good health, then that's something we need to seriously consider doing as good stewards of the body that God has given us,” said Witherspoon, whose church in the Midtown neighborhood has about 300 members.
Witherspoon allows his health unit to talk with church committees and answers COVID-19 related questions.
Both Witherspoon and Burton said the rushed vaccine and the misuse of African Americans for medical experiments in the past are common responses that many African Americans advert to as to why they are hesitant to take the vaccine.
Witherspoon is not hesitant to take the vaccine, but some other pastors are not sure.
Bishop Elijah Hankerson of North St. Louis' Life Center International Church of God in Christ said he wants to learn more information about the vaccine before he talks to his congregation of about 300 about the shot.
“What we're doing in our local church is just adding more information to the pot so that people can look at that and just weigh their options as far as what they desire to do,” Hankerson said.
Hankerson said he is in consultation with his church’s staff doctors and nurses because he wants his church to be aware of the positives and negatives of the vaccine, because Black people have been hit hardest by the virus.
Andrea Henderson is a reporter for St. Louis Public Radio, a reporting partner of The St. Louis American.
Republished with permission of St. Louis Public Radio: https://news.stlpublicradio.org/race-identity-faith/2021-01-19/st-louis-pastors-say-the-church-must-ask-black-people-to-get-the-conronavirus-vaccine