It was more than a year ago that the sanctuary at Macedonia Baptist Church in Arlington’s Green Valley neighborhood went dark and silent, one of many victims of the COVID pandemic.
But in recent weeks, the church is once again alive – this time in the battle to beat the virus.
Macedonia leaders have offered their facilities to provide vaccination services to under-served populations in Arlington, and for the past two Fridays, scores of local residents, many from the surrounding community, have received their first inoculation.
Those taking part are “excited about the convenience – they feel comfort,” said Rev. Craig Harcum, who was on hand March 26 to provide encouragement – and to reconnect with some parishioners he has had to minister to “virtually” for months.
“I’m extremely excited to see members, after not seeing them for a year,” said Rev. Harcum, who arrived as pastor at Macedonia (succeeding Rev. Dr. Leonard Hamlin Sr.) just a few months before the pandemic hit.
The Macedonia vaccination clinic, which is set to expand from one day per week to two, is part of local initiatives to bring inoculations into communities, particularly those most severely impacted by the pandemic. Medical services are being provided by Alexandria-based Neighborhood Health.
Because Neighborhood Health is a federally qualified health center, it receives its stock of vaccine from the federal government. “Our priority is to provide access to vaccines to the communities most impacted by COVID,” said Dr. Basim Khan, the organization’s executive director.
Overseeing operations at Macedonia has been Lamont West, a trustee at the church. He has worked with Deaconess Clara Lamback to provide a seamless scheduling of the approximately 150 appointments available each time the clinic is offered.
As part of the effort, some of the supply is set aside specifically for Macedonia parishioners, many of whom have not been to the church building for a year.
“It’s something about being here,” West said during a brief break in the action. “It gives people a sense of comfort.”
Despite concerns that some communities are skittish about the vaccine, West said that was not the case among Macedonia parishioners.
“Most of ours have really been wanting” to get it, he said.
The church is notified in advance of the minimum number of doses that will be provided on a given day, and schedules that number of people. On occasion, more doses will be delivered, at which point calls start being made to find additional local residents who would be interested in receiving a shot.
Macedonia has made a concerted effort to reach out of other religious organizations in Green Valley and throughout the broader community, West said.
After receiving the first vaccination, those participating are scheduled for their second – either three or four weeks into the future, depending which vaccine was used.
COVID may not be in the rear-view mirror quite yet, but religious bodies, like other organizations, are starting to plan for a post-COVID world. Rev. Harcum said a “re-entry committee” was being formed at Macedonia to provide recommendations for bringing back in-person services. They likely will be held outdoors at first.
But many variables remain at play.
“Our plan is not a solid plan,” Rev. Harcum noted. The church earlier had sought to return to in-person worship last October, but rising case rates last fall scuttled that plan.
In the meantime, he is urging his flock to “stay safe, stay connected, stay encouraged in the Lord.”
“‘Encouragement’ is our big word,” he said. “Trust that God will take us through. Troubles are going to come; we persevere, though. Always victory in Jesus.”