In the African-American community, the black church remains a trusted source of information for your mind, body, and soul. The pastors of these churches are viewed as authentic conduits in which vital community information is shared with very little, if at all, skepticism. Despite the infinite access of the internet, many residents still rely on the preacher as the final authority and it is the burden of those faith leaders to insure their information is solid, trusted and actionable. This responsibility is amplified in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and the vaccine developed to fight it.
Pastor Patrick Sellers of Birmingham, AL is one who truly feels the gravity of his role as he oversees more than 1,400 churches in the state of Alabama. As their leader, he is listening to their thoughts and concerns about the vaccine and their stance on taking it vs. not taking it.
“There are mixed emotions,” Sellers explains. “Many usually refer to the Tuskegee experiments or some other tragedy; so, there’s a level of fear.”
Many parishioners are still on the fence when it comes to taking the vaccine. Even with a glaring endorsement from the Man of God, there is an atmosphere of hesitancy in the black church. In addition to the basic introduction of the vaccine, another concern Sellers hears is the availability of multiple vaccines in the market and knowing which ones are safe, for sure.
“I believe the vaccine is needed,” says Sellers. “The challenge is learning how to calm those fears. We have to ask ourselves if the (current) communications is working enough, or is there something else we should be doing?”
The voice of Pastor Sellers’ flock is filled with hesitancy that he hopes will be converted into compliance for the sake of their health and the future of their families. His prayer is that the principles of the Baptist church will help open the eyes of those who are clearly at risk due to being unvaccinated.
“Our church is built on the foundation of evangelism, mission, and education,” Sellers said. “And we have to continue finding better ways to educate our members in order to continue carrying out the mission.”
As we continue to educate faith leaders on the information that will help them make better health decisions, our hope is that the voices return to the ears of their leaders, with a tone of understanding, awareness, and protection.