Mobile vaccination unit's first tour at a house of worship kicks off with a whimper

·3 min read

May 28—LEWISTON — In the first hour of a mobile vaccination unit's stop at a house of worship Thursday, the first time a mobile unit has done so in Maine, one person showed up to get their COVID-19 vaccine.

Jenney Klemetson said she decided to get the jab when she heard that the clinic would be at Pathway Vineyard Church in Lewiston, where she volunteers.

"Honestly, I've just been really praying about it a lot. And I just hadn't felt that urgency yet," Klemetson said. "I really just didn't want to deal with the crowds or having to go a far distance in order to get it."

Though everyone in her family has already gotten vaccinated, she said that "so many people had so many different opinions" that it was difficult for her to make a decision on whether to get vaccinated or not.

It wasn't her faith community that finally convinced her, nor had she heard the church's leadership comment on vaccinations one way or another.

"I kind of felt like this was an answer to prayer, showing up at where I volunteer at my church," Klemetson said.

"If it wouldn't come here, I probably wouldn't (have) gone," she said.

Besides a post on the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Facebook page and the state's website with a list of vaccination sites, there does not appear to be any public announcements about the clinic's stop at the church.

The mobile unit is run by Promerica Health in collaboration with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and has made stops in downtown Lewiston, Poland, Freeport and New Gloucester. It is administering the Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations by appointments and walk-ins.

Pathway Vineyard Church did not advertise the clinic on any of its social channels.

Allen Austin, senior pastor at the church, said Thursday that he has not "formally" spoken with any of his congregants about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah has said on several occasions that he is working with faith leaders to encourage their community members to get vaccinated but Austin said it was Lewiston city officials who reached out to him about setting up a clinic there.

Austin said agreeing to host a vaccination clinic was a "no brainer." The church is always looking to "figure out how we can do our part," he said.

Still, he doesn't foresee there ever being a point where he would speak directly to his congregation about the COVID-19 vaccine. He said his approach to formal discussions the vaccine would be the same as the way he handles political conversations.

"We're a large community of faith that has a broad spectrum of people with varying belief systems, ideologically, politically," he said.

The Lewiston church had between 800 and 1,000 congregants before the pandemic.

Austin, who's been with the church for 30 years and senior pastor since 2011, said he feels "really comfortable leaning into" issues of faith but when it comes to political issues "or even something that could be controversial, like the vaccination," he said he "encourages" his congregates to think about "what it means to be a follower of Jesus in the 21st century."

He said he's been fully vaccinated and that it was "an easy yes to do."

"I myself have a path that I've chosen, but really try to leave that up to most individuals to process on their own," he said.

The vaccination clinic is open Fri., May 28, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. For a list of vaccination sites, visit maine.gov/covid19/vaccines/vaccination-sites.