“Do you have kids?” the paramedic administering my vaccine asked.
“Yes. Two barrels of energy. They are 3 and 1.”
“A pastor and a mom? Wow.” She said, smiling. “I want to tell you something important. You’ll be scheduling a 2nd dose on the way out, and I want you to do something for me. Schedule the day after your 2nd dose as a pj day for just you. Take off from work. Get a babysitter. Schedule yourself a sick day. You may feel a little under the weather with the 2nd dose (I did). And even if it doesn’t make you sick, you’ll still get a day in you pjs reading a book. You’ve been through a lot. You deserve it, Pastor.”
I started to tear up. She didn’t know me at all, but she spoke right to my heart. Paramedic as pastor. She was right: I totally deserve a pj day after momming and pastoring and adulting through this past year. Yet I wasn’t sure she was right on another point: Did I deserve the vaccine she had just put into my arm?
On Monday (January 11, 2021), all clergy in my Presbytery received notice from our Executive Presbyter that one of our local healthcare systems was opening up the Vaccine to all “clergy in the community.” By Thursday (January 14) at 9:30am, I had rolled up my sleeve to receive the vaccine shot in my arm. I could hardly believe that I had been chosen to receive the COVID-19 vaccine so soon in the distribution process. As a healthy (but super exhausted) 30-something woman, I figured I wouldn’t be eligible until Summer or even Fall. So many others need the protection from the deadly virus more than me. I don’t have underlying health conditions. I don’t have a job that puts me on the frontlines. I am careful and as safe as possible here in my little bubble, which consists of both home and church on one little block.
Yet I, like the rest of the world, have spent sleepless nights and anxiety-ridden days worrying about contracting COVID-19. My worries are twofold. First, I worry that I could potentially spread the virus to members of my church who are in the high-risk groups. My kids are in daycare and, while we are blessed with an amazing daycare with strict safety guidelines, it’s still a risk that could potentially affect my congregation. Second, I worry that if my family all test positive, my husband and I would not be able to care for our small children if we were very sick ourselves. No one could help take care of our kids because we would need to be in strict quarantine. These two worries alone have driven many of our life choices in these last 10 months.
Yet we haven’t stayed completely isolated, because we simply can’t. We still need childcare. We still need to purchase food and necessary items. We still need to see doctors. I still need physical therapy for my hand injury several times a week. We still need to see our closest family members. We still need to do our jobs.
As a pastor, I lead in-person worship every week (though our numbers are low and most of our church family continue to worship online). I’ve made pastoral care visits to those in need. I’ve led funeral services. This is part of the reason clergy are categorized as Vaccine Group 1B, along with police officers, firefighters, educators, etc. We characteristically spend a lot of time in hospitals, nursing homes, and in the homes of those who are ill.
Yet, for the whole of the pandemic, clergy have been barred from visiting these places. My beloveds have faced surgery and illness without me. A few precious ones have even passed away. I could not visit, or pray with, or hold their hand as they entered God’s heavenly realm. While this might be the hardest part of my job, it is my favorite part of my calling. For it is an honor to walk with a person in such a time. I have the privilege of being present in people’s lives at times of great joy and great sorrow.
This is precisely what I was thinking about as I drove to the hospital for my COVID Vaccine appointment. The hospital that was offering clergy the vaccine has been a place of great joy and great sorrow for me, as both mom and pastor. Within these walls, I gave birth to both of my children, I’ve prayed for God’s protection and healing before countless surgeries, and I’ve held the hands of those who slipped from this earth to be with our God. This is a place where great joy and great sorrow meet.
As I drove up to the hospital, I stopped to read the temporary signs. To the left was COVID Testing. I watched as a line of cars methodically drove through the barrier cones – people driving with worry and fear. To the right was COVID Vaccination. I followed the signs to the back of the building. I parked and saw another line. A long line of people were waiting (6 feet apart) for their turn for a shot of hope. A place where great joy and great sorrow meet.
I masked up, took in a deep breath, and got into the line. While the line ran out the building, down the sidewalk, and into the parking lot, it did move quickly. First, I passed the temperature and mask check. Having only a cloth mask, I was given a surgical mask. I proceeded to check in – name, date of birth, allergies, insurance. The process was very smooth. Clear instructions. Safety precautions. Kind, helpful, and cheerful staff guided the way into a large conference room. I was instructed to proceed to booth #3. I don’t know the name of the paramedic administering vaccines at booth 3, but she is a true gift. A caretaker of the highest degree.
She sat with me for a long time. First, instructing me about the mechanics of the vaccine. Then chatting with me about the struggles of pandemic life as she prepared the shot. I mentioned my surprised that my group (Clergy, 1B) was chosen to be given the vaccine so early because we aren’t essential workers. Was it line jumping, I asked? She balked at my guilt. “Don’t you go into hospitals and nursing homes and hospice centers? Aren’t you going to go back to your church to encourage them to get the vaccine, showing them that it’s the safe, healthy, and faithful thing to do?”
She was right, of course. This was a shot of hope. Hope to be physically present with our people once more. Hope that we can beat this awful virus together. Hope that God has answered our prayers for help through the minds and skills of our scientists. Hope that we will all eventually get our shot. Hope that someone who is nervous about the vaccine might see our example and get their shot. The wise paramedic gave me more than a shot of vaccine. She gave me a shot at a break, a shot of encouragement, a shot of grace, and a shot of hope for us all.
And like Hamilton, “I am not throwing away that shot.”
So friends, I am here to say: do not throw away your shot. We have all been through a lot, no matter what our situation has been. Some of us are on the frontlines. Some of us are isolated at home. Many of us are at some level in between. For this has been a year where our great joys and our great sorrows have met. It’s also been a year where our great tragedies have met our great hopes.
No matter your designation on the vaccine distribution list, I pray that you will remain safe in the waiting. I pray for enough vaccine for each and every one of us. I pray you will be able to make an appointment. I pray you will not throw away your shot. For you deserve a shot of hope … you have been through enough.
So in my duty as pastor of community encouragement, I am also here to report to you how I feel. I had the first dose of the Pfzier COVID-19 Vaccine and I am feeling well. I write this 36 hours after my shot. Last evening, I felt enough body aches to go to bed early, and my arm ached enough at the injection sight to not sleep on that side. This morning, 24 hours after the shot, I felt perfectly healthy.
Don’t throw away your shot. Register now! And remember, when you schedule that 2nd dose: schedule yourself a pj day. You deserve it.
Vaccine Registration Information for Camden County, New Jersey
Pre-register for the COVID Vaccine to reserve a place in line:
NJ Registration: https://covidvaccine.nj.gov/
If you are local clergy, message me and I’ll send you the contact information.
If you are in the eligible categories (Phase 1B, which currently includes all persons 65 and older, and all persons 16-65 with underlying health conditions): you can sign up for an appointment through a hospital network:
Cooper and Jefferson: https://www.camdencounty.com/vaccineregistration/