Interfaith Group Pushes for Vaccine Access

Rabbi Gregory Marx is a member of the Wissahickon Faith Community Association. Photo by Dara King

A Feb. 24 meeting of the Wissahickon Faith Community Association “just sort of exploded,” according to Enten Eller, pastor at the Ambler Church of the Brethren and the Living Stream Church of the Brethren.

The subject: COVID-19 vaccine appointments.

The WFCA, an interfaith group of churches, mosques and synagogues, has been together for more than 30 years. Today, the WFCA promotes interreligious and interracial understanding, community service, pulpit exchanges and an annual Thanksgiving service.
For years, Eller said, there had been a bubbling desire among WFCA members to do more. But more of what?

Because the group’s active membership waxed and waned, and the definition of what “more” should be was contested, efforts to pursue that goal were hamstrung. When the group deliberated over writing a joint letter during the 2020 election cycle, the final product was “a sort of lowest-common-denominator compromise position,” Eller said.

But at the Feb. 24 Zoom meeting, there was more agreement as faith leaders shared story after story about the difficulties their congregants faced in finding the COVID-19 vaccine. It wasn’t just that the elderly, infirm or otherwise eligible congregants weren’t able to navigate the warren of web-based schedulers; there was the concurrent feeling that so many of their seemingly ineligible congregants had secured appointments instead.

“I’ve been speaking to various different dignitaries and leaders in the community, and we’re seeing a lot of line-jumping,” said Rabbi Gregory Marx of Congregation Beth Or, one of the group’s members, who compared the vaccine inequities to food deserts. “People of privilege, using their position, their power, their influence, to get the shots above people that are not of privilege.”

What came out of the Feb. 24 meeting was a paradigm shift, Eller said. The group decided to get more active, and to speak out more forcefully: They sent out press releases and wrote articles for the Ambler Gazette. Pastor Charles Quann, senior pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Spring House, plans to elevate the WFCA’s work in his writing for The Philadelphia Tribune.

“In seeing where things in this culture have gone, even in just the last handful of months, the Wissahickon Faith Community has had a renewed commitment to trying to be active in our communities, to be a force for good, to work for breaking down barriers and looking out for those that are most vulnerable,” Eller said.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” said Pastor Kris Chandler, who leads Trinity Lutheran Church in Fort Washington. “And I just thought that we could take an active role here, giving voice to those that are not being represented when it comes to vaccinations.”
Marx, Eller, Chandler and Quann have all been involved in efforts to get vaccine appointments for their congregants.

Pastor Charles Quann had to turn away over 1,000 people from a March 7 vaccination event at his church. Courtesy of Bethlehem Baptist Church

At Beth Or, member parents have called for appointments on behalf of preschool teachers, among other internal efforts, while Quann was there when 200 of his community members received vaccines through the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium and Abington Hospital–Jefferson Health at his church.

However many have been helped, many more remain isolated without access to a vaccine, Quann said. And the unequal distribution of the vaccines has reinforced mistrust in institutions.

“People are angry,” Quann said. “They feel again that there are those who are getting preferential treatment.”

Members of the WFCA hope that their work will remedy some of the frustration and inequity.

“We’re not on a boat by ourselves,” Marx said. “We’re all in this boat together.” l

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