ARUMC Churches Boast High Vaccination RatesArkansas congregations turn to vaccines to keep their communities safe

ARUMC Churches Boast High Vaccination Rates
Arkansas congregations turn to vaccines to keep their communities safe

cdc vaccine

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

As the Delta Variant continues to move through Arkansas, more and more United Methodist Churches are turning to one of three recommended vaccines to help prevent the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 in their communities.

Although Arkansas still has a relatively low rate of fully vaccinated individuals compared to other states in the U.S. — 39.9% of Arkansans are considered fully vaccinated, 38th out of all states and territories, according to data from Covid Act Now — in recent weeks, more people are getting the jab in order to keep themselves, their families, and their church communities safe from the coronavirus. Some churches have even partnered with local businesses to encourage vaccinations and incentivize participating with giveaways.

Lakewood UMC of North Little Rock recently conducted an online survey to gauge how many in their congregation had been vaccinated and found that about 92% of survey respondents, 308 individuals, declared they were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The Rev. Roy Beth Kelley, who started her new appointment at Lakewood in July, said in a letter that they believe the respondents who responded saying they were unvaccinated were families with young children who were not yet eligible to get the vaccine.

“It seems likely that our church events are safer than what you might experience in other gathering spaces such as stores and restaurants,” Kelley said.

At the First United Methodist Church of Siloam Springs, senior pastor Rev. Clark Atkins said that his church conducted a survey in April 2021, prior to the FDA giving emergency approval for the vaccine to people under 18 years old.

“At that time our survey indicated that 90% of vaccine eligible people in our worshipping congregation were either fully vaccinated or would be in the next month,” Atkins said. “Since that time I believe that number has increased and we are probably at 93%.” 

Atkins said they haven’t conducted a follow-up survey since children 12-17 were approved for the vaccine, but he believes that ⅔ or more of that age group are vaccinated.

“A driver for many young people in our church is the ability to participate in athletics and extracurriculars without having to quarantine,” he said.

For some congregations, vaccination hesitancy has caused their numbers to rise slower than other churches. The Rev. Daniel Thueson, senior pastor at First UMC Mountain Home, said that although less than half of the church’s active membership responded to the survey they sent out, he was still pleased with the responses and thinks that there are more in the congregation that are vaccinated but chose not to participate in the survey.

“To get our numbers up, we encouraged the congregation early on to get vaccinated, especially since many are considered part of the highly vulnerable population. As we offer COVID updates to our community, we intentionally encourage vaccination. As a result, some of our Sunday School classes, on their own, said all the members would need to be vaccinated in order to meet as a class again.”

The Rev. Cindy Henry, deacon at Lakewood UMC, said returning to Sunday School classes was a big factor for Lakewood’s congregation to get the vaccine as well.

“Truthfully, we didn’t take any ‘intentional’ steps. The Sunday School classes were very encouraging of one another because they wanted to meet face-to-face and feel safer,” Henry said. “The staff got fully vaccinated early on and we were very public about our choices to get the vaccine.”

But for many, the biggest persuader to get vaccinated seems to be word of mouth and personal conversations about the importance of getting the vaccine.

“I’ve had several one-on-one conversations with people asking about the vaccine theologically. Helping them put the politics aside and thinking of it as a way to love their neighbor allowed them to make the decision on getting vaccinated,” Thueson said.

Similarly, Kelley said her church is currently studying “The Jesus Priorities” by Christopher Maricle, which explores Jesus’ priorities during his life on Earth. 

“Jesus’s number one priority was healing. There are many ways we can bring God’s healing love to our neighbors, and being vaccinated and telling our own story about why we did is one step within our power to bring healing,” she said.

To find a vaccine location near you, visit the Arkansas Department of Health’s website, and continue to check the ARUMC COVID Dashboard to monitor COVID-19 cases in your area.

Employment Law Live Webinar

ADA, FMLA, ADEA, Title VII. These are just a few of the employment laws with which those in Human Resources need to know well. The world of employment law is constantly changing and recent Supreme Court decisions may have an effect on your organization.

The General Council on Finance and Administration’s team of Human Resources professionals is here to help. During this live webinar, we will provide you with a thorough overview of employment laws and how to make sure you stay compliant. This webinar will provide you with best practices and useful resources to make sure your ministries are aware, informed, and up-to-date on Human Resources related topics.

This live webinar will be held Thursday, August 26th, at 10:00am CDT. For just $25, you’ll be able to:

  • Gain a general understanding of the employment laws related to your business practices.
  • Implement best practices for recordkeeping and new hire documents.
  • Have exclusive access to GCFA’s HR professionals to help answer your questions.

To register, please click here.

*Although every effort has been made to provide a complete and compliant review and presentation, The General Council on Finance and Administration does not provide legal advice.

The Evidence of LoveChurches Show Love In Different Ways As Students Return to Classrooms

The Evidence of Love
Churches Show Love In Different Ways As Students Return to Classrooms

toy rabbit

Photo by Inga Shcheglova on Unsplash

By Rev. Sam Meadors

Community Coordinator, The Delta Project - 200K More Reasons

As I was looking through the books given through Giving Books for Love, one of my all-time favorites caught my eye: The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. Written in 1922, the book tells the tale of a stuffed toy learning about love and what it means to be Real. 

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

The message of the story never fails to bring tears to my eyes. In the book, the toy Velveteen Rabbit comforts a young boy as he struggles through sickness. The rabbit has his fur rubbed thin and nose kissed off in the process. After the boy recovers from scarlet fever and to prevent the spread of germs, the rabbit must be destroyed to keep the boy safe. It is only then that the rabbit cries a tear and becomes Real. 

Perhaps the tears that come to my eyes are due to all of those I know who are working diligently to make sure children can thrive even in the midst of a pandemic. 

Across the state this summer, many children’s ministers, pastors, and volunteers developed plans for Vacation Bible School that not only reached the children in their church but would help children throughout their community. During their Knights of North Castle VBS week at Beebe FUMC, church members, the local Headstart, and the school came together to provide books. Children who participated went home with books and the church’s Little Free Library was stocked with books to spare. Lakewood United Methodist Church in North Little Rock created an Amazon Wishlist for members to buy new books to give to Project Transformation. They even had a published member donate classroom sets of their book to use in the Delta. Many churches are preparing to return to backpack programs to feed children this fall or hosting school supply drives to support students and families. For this, I give thanks to God. 

After a year of interrupted schooling and worry, I admit that I was hoping this school year would be different. The Delta variant has made us acutely aware of the need to support and protect the children in our families, schools, and churches. For many who have been trying to do their best for the children in their lives, those who cannot be vaccinated yet, it may feel a bit like the velveteen rabbit who, “longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.”

You can always tell a well-loved toy by the wear and tear on it- the evidence of love. When I look at our churches, I see the evidence of love as well. In the disheveled appearance of children’s ministers making plans A through F for their back-to-school events. In tired eyes that peek over masks of mostly vaccinated congregations who put the needs of children first. In the weary trustees and reopening committees making hard decisions to protect the vulnerable. In the exhaustion of those who try to reach out in literacy, nutrition, or stability ministries even when it’s hard. In all of these and more, love of others is evident. 

The story of the Velveteen Rabbit echoes the Gospel in its core message that love is transformational. Love changes us. Whether that is the love of a child or the love of God- we can’t encounter it and go back to how we were before. The Skin Horse says as much to the Velveteen Rabbit, “Once you are real, you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”  God’s love is beckoning to us- to enter the fray and not be afraid of the uncomfortable things that may happen. “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”(John 13:34). So, may your whiskers be worn off and may you grow shabby… in love. 

Methodist Le Bonheur Updates Clergy Visitation Policy

methodist le bonheur

Methodist Le Bonheur of Memphis, Tennessee has updated their clergy visitation policy to reflect current covid-19 trends in the area.

The main changes to the policy include the following:

  • To ensure safety for all, we are placing a pause on volunteers and visiting clergy in our facilities, effective today.
  • As a faith-based organization, we value the role of spiritual care for our patients, so we encourage clergy support through phone and platforms such as Zoom and FaceTime.
  • In addition, we offer 24/7 spiritual care support through our spiritual care helplines for pediatric patients at 901.297.2388 and for adult patients at 901.573.5631.
  • We will make exceptions for clergy visitation for end-of-life care.
  • We will reevaluate this policy weekly, and will welcome volunteers and clergy back to our facilities as soon as we determine it is safe to do so.

To read the full document of policies and procedures, visit the link below.

MLH Visitation Policy Aug 2021

Camden FUMC Teams Up With Community to Encourage Vaccinations

Camden FUMC Teams Up With Community to Encourage Vaccinations

sign

A sign sits inside the Native Dog Brewing building in Camden, Arkansas, part of a partnership between Camden FUMC, the brewery, and other local leaders to get their community vaccinated. Photo courtesy of Camden FUMC.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

With the Delta variant of COVID-19 on the rise in all 50 states, and vaccine rates moving at a meager pace in most places, churches are now turning to incentives to get more people vaccinated in their communities.

Arkansas is in the middle of a COVID crisis — hospitalizations have hit an all-time high and the fully vaccinated number currently sits much lower than many other states at 37% — but churches like Camden First UMC have stepped up their outreach efforts to ensure that vaccination rates continue to go up.

“This is a church that has a strong missional bond with its community. We started planning for COVID a month before COVID hit (in 2020) so we could pivot safely for our food pantry and our weekly community meal (called Sue’s Table),” said the Rev. Beth Waldrup, senior pastor at Camden FUMC.

When vaccines were made available to the public in early spring of 2021, a collective sense of relief reverberated through many United Methodist churches in Arkansas, but Arkansas has lagged behind other states in its vaccination rate. Waldrup and FUMC realized they would need to step up their efforts to encourage people to get the jab.

“As the vaccination numbers began to lag and the variants started creeping in, we first started talking about vaccines with all our neighbors at Sue’s Table and the Food Pantry. When Dr. Erin Goss, a local physician, announced she was organizing a pop-up clinic to be held at a new micro-brewery that has significant outdoor space, we volunteered to purchase gift cards as an incentive,” Waldrup said.

Waldrup said that $25 gift cards to Walmart and Brookshire’s, a local grocery store, were purchased by the church and given out at pop-up vaccine clinics to encourage vaccinations.

She said the vaccine clinic at the local brewery, Native Dog Brewing, was a big success, and 31 people from the community were vaccinated in one night. The event at the brewery was even more successful than their first night at the local health department where eight vaccines were given out.

Waldrup said there have been a couple more pop-up clinics, with more than 100 vaccines and gift cards given out in the last few weeks.

“We consider it successful. If it saves one life that might infect a dozen more, it is worth every cent,” Waldrup said.

Although the clinics have been a team effort, Waldrup said one person who has helped out quite a bit with the campaign is Allison Lawson.

Lawson used her experience as the Executive Director of the Ouachita Valley Community Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to charitable giving in Arkansas, to help organize a media campaign to raise awareness of the vaccines.

“I should start by saying the work I did with Camden FUMC was as a personal volunteer and church member and not in my executive director capacity. But I definitely used a lot of concepts and training I’ve learned from the Community Foundation for this project, like the importance of collaboration with trusted local partners,” Lawson said.

“I think we approached it in a very community-oriented way. It was important that we reached out to medical providers, of course, but we also wanted respected community leaders to be part of this effort so that every part of Camden was represented.”

To get the word out about the free vaccination clinics, Lawson and Camden FUMC worked with their local newspaper, Camden News, to create a series of video public service announcements. The video included local community, religious, and medical leaders discussing the importance of getting the vaccine.

Additionally, local leaders in the Camden area were asked to submit letters to the editor encouraging vaccinations. And finally, Lawson said they hosted a Facebook Live Q&A with local medical professionals to answer any questions that people in the community had about the vaccine or COVID-19.

“They talked about how important it was to our community that everyone get vaccinated; what they’d say to a friend that was considering whether to get vaccinated. One doctor also explained how an mRNA vaccine works,” Lawson said.

According to Waldrup, this is not the end of their efforts, but only the beginning. She said while the congregation at Camden FUMC has a 98-99% vaccination rate, Ouachita County only has a fully vaccinated rate of around 41%. However, Waldrup said before their efforts to get people vaccinated began, that number was only 36.5%.

Waldrup said while they were at first worried about adults getting the virus, now their main concern is children and teenagers heading back to school.

But she said they are committed to continuing their vaccine efforts until the rate goes up in Ouachita County.

“We would love to see our county rate up to 70%,” Waldrup said. “Our church loves the people in its mission field so we will continue to work with all available parties to keep people safe.”