Rowan County Methodist churches unite behind COVID-19 vaccination message

Published 2:39 pm Tuesday, August 10, 2021

SALISBURY — Methodist clergy from eight churches in Rowan County said in a letter released Tuesday that COVID-19 deaths and suffering can end by getting vaccinated.

The pastors represent eight churches across the county — from Kannapolis to Spencer. The approval of COVID-19 vaccines was an answer to prayers to stop the pandemic, the pastors wrote, but the local vaccination rate — 42% of people fully vaccinated and 49% for those 12 and older — is not enough to do that.

“We have been with you all during these last 16 months,” the letter states. “We all have taken steps in the darkest valley. We all have witnessed loved ones, friends and neighbors suffer, and some pass away. We all know sorrow and pain by name. We all know what it means to worry and to lose.”

The latest state data show 322 people have died from COVID-19 in Rowan County, including six in the previous week. A majority of the 322 have occurred in 2021. While demographic data is not yet published for the most recent instances, a majority of COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic have occurred among people 75 and older.

Rowan County also is among the worst eight counties in the state for COVID-19 deaths and is moving closer to some larger population counties. Seventh-worst is Buncombe County, which has 329 deaths

“We mourn with those families, and we do not want to see hundreds more die before this is over,” the pastors wrote. “We, the United Methodist Clergy of Rowan County, believe we can prevent more death and more suffering by getting the vaccine.”

The letter recites a portion of well-known biblical story of Noah and the flood from the book of Genesis.

“As the water from the flood started to recede, Noah sent out a raven and a dove for tangible proof it was OK to leave the ark,” the letter states. “After a long wait, the dove brought back a torn olive leaf. It was proof things started to grow again on dry ground. When we look at the scientists, health professionals and other leaders in these fields, they are holding the vaccine up as proof of our hope to end this pandemic.”

The pastors encouraged people to use the Rowan County Health Department’s COVID-19 website — rowancountync.gov/covid-19 — to find a location to be vaccinated.

One of the pastors who signed the letter, Rev. Jim Parsons of Milford Hills United Methodist Church said it was easy for the project to come together because of pre-existing contact lists. The goal, he said, was for the local pastors to “lift up a different voice” that the vaccine can help end the pandemic as a rebuttal to messages that call the COVID-19 vaccine “the sign of the beast.” Pastors acknowledge they’re not medical experts in the letter and encourage people to speak with a doctor or medical professional about any hesitancy.

“My personal take is that Jesus gives commands, to love God and love thy neighbor, and this is a way of expressing love to your neighbor,” he said.

Asked Tuesday, Parsons said he thought it would be helpful for additional churches or denominations to issue a similar message.

“Maybe that’s a voice that starts to build and is louder than what you can see on social media,” he said.

The full list of signatures on the list is as follows:

• Rev. Jim Parsons of Milford Hills United Methodist Church in Salisbury.

• Rev. Mark Conforti of First United Methodist Church in Salisbury.

• Rev. John Yeager of Christ and Mount Tabor United Methodist Church in Salisbury.

• Laura Auten, who’s the district superintendent of the Uwharrie District of the United Methodist Church.

• Rev. McKenzie Sefa of Central United Methodist Church in Spencer.

• Craig J. Sefa of Shiloh United Methodist Church in Granite Quarry.

• Rev. Aldana W. Allen of Providence United Methodist Church in Salisbury.

• Rev. Caitlin Lai of North Kannapolis United Methodist Church in Kannapolis.

• Rev. Jeff Insley of Bethel and Grace United Methodist Church in Salisbury.

Data reported for Rowan County Tuesday by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is as follows:

• One new death, bringing the total to 322 since the start of the pandemic.

• 42 new COVID-19 positives on Monday and 904 in the previous two weeks.

• 449 people hospitalized in Rowan County’s region — up from 406 the previous day.

• 122 people in intensive care — up from 107 the previous day.

• The percent of local tests returning positive is 16.3%, a number that’s also steadily increased even as the number of tests conducted is going up.

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