Diocese of Pennsylvania will host clinic to vaccinate clergy, essential church employees

By Egan Millard
Posted Feb 24, 2021

The Rev. Sean Slack gets a flu shot during the Diocese of Pennsylvania’s 2020 vaccine clinic. Photo: Diocese of Pennsylvania

[Episcopal News Service] After petitioning to get clergy of all denominations classified as essential workers, the Diocese of Pennsylvania plans to host a clinic to administer COVID-19 vaccines to its clergy and some church employees under the state’s next vaccination phase.

The clinic is scheduled to take place on March 13 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. The goal is to get all clergy and essential workers in the diocese’s 134 churches vaccinated, Canon for Communications Jennifer Tucker told Episcopal News Service.

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo: Diocese of Pennsylvania

The diocese expects about 800 people to get vaccinated at the clinic, which will be set up through a partnership with a pharmacy. Four licensed nurses from within the diocese have volunteered to administer the shots.

First responders, farmworkers, industrial laborers, grocery store workers, educators and child care workers are up next to receive the vaccine in Pennsylvania. The diocese asked the state in January to ensure that clergy would be included in this phase, which it did.

“When I first learned that the vaccines would be available, I was resolute in ensuring that our clergy were included,” Bishop Daniel Gutiérrez told ENS. “I take my role seriously as a pastor to our clergy. … In our diocese, we have a commitment to one another. I will go to any lengths to ensure the clergy and laity of this diocese are protected, served and healthy.”

Along with clergy, workers who provide “essential support for houses of worship” are included in the next phase. That designation, Gutiérrez told ENS, covers “the bare minimal staff required on-site in order for worship services to occur.” For example, sextons and organists may qualify, but administrative staff may not, unless their jobs necessitate working in the building with others.

“We would love to offer vaccines to all staff,” Gutiérrez said. “However, vaccines are still very limited, and we are in the category of professionals such as police and firefighters who are in constant contact with the community as part of their career.”

Gutiérrez said it was important to recognize the urgency of the work that clergy do as they respond to the needs of parishioners who are in physical, emotional and spiritual distress. Such work often puts members of the clergy at high risk for the virus, and they deserve appropriate protection.

“The essential ministry of priests and deacons is often forgotten, and they give everything in the service of God and one another,” he said. “We cannot tend to the sick if our clergy are ailing.”

While doctors and nurses address the physical toll of COVID-19, clergy have been critical in responding to a parallel public health crisis: depression and other mental illnesses associated with the pandemic.

“Our work did not cease in a pandemic. It only increased,” Gutiérrez told ENS. “We witnessed an increase in depression for those isolated – and made house calls at a distance and phone calls throughout the week. We continue to provide last rites to the dying, provide families with closure after laying their loved ones to rest [and] provide pastoral care when our siblings in Christ feel they are at their most vulnerable state.”

Once the general public becomes eligible for the vaccine, the diocese and its clergy will encourage people in their communities to get the shot, Gutiérrez said, in keeping with The Episcopal Church’s vaccine promotion initiative, which includes a toolkit for individuals, congregations and ministries to facilitate and promote COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

“Our clergy have been leading the push for vaccination, especially among Black and Latino communities,” Gutiérrez said. “Where there is mistrust, our clergy have the presence of faith, trust and care that will assist in easing doubts.”

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.