(RNS) — The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine mandated Monday (Aug. 23) that all clergy and staff in the diocese be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of September. It is one of the first COVID-19 vaccine mandates for clergy in the U.S.
A letter from Bishop Thomas J. Brown to clergy in the diocese says: “It’s clear that vaccination of our population is the best path to the pandemic’s end, and as spiritual leaders, we have a moral obligation both to protect others and to set a Christlike example to the larger world.
“I am therefore directing all members of the diocesan staff, and all of you — clergy serving pastorally or sacramentally in any congregation in the Diocese of Maine — to be vaccinated unless you have been directed by a physician not to do so.”
The mandate will apply to roughly 240 clergy and more than a dozen staff members in the diocese, although Brown told Religion News Service that all diocesan staff members are already vaccinated. Brown said that if a clergy member refused the mandate, the response would depend on the person’s role, but he would consider asking the person to step down.
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“We want to say to everybody in Maine that we trust public health leaders who say to us that the vaccine is the best tool we have to curb this pandemic,” Brown told RNS. “And if we could somehow do our part, assure them that our clergy leaders are going to do what we can to keep them safe, it becomes a message of liberation.”
In a press release, Brown added that schools, public health agencies, governments, corporations and nonprofits are also announcing mandatory vaccinations. He also told RNS that the majority of people who are contracting COVID-19 in Maine are not vaccinated, so getting the vaccine is a way to love both God and neighbor.
The announcement follows an Aug. 10 statement by the denomination’s presiding bishop, Michael Curry, encouraging Americans to get vaccinated. “Vaccines can help us save lives and make life livable. … I got mine, we can get ours — for ourselves, but if not for ourselves, for our children who still don’t have the vaccine yet,” Curry said in the video.
The Episcopal Church has been a longtime proponent of vaccines. A 2019 resolution from the denomination’s executive council calls the responsible use of vaccines a duty and condemns the spread of anti-vaccination misinformation.
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“In our baptismal covenant we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, love our neighbor, and respect the dignity of every human being,” wrote Brown in the letter. “Now is the time to respect each other’s dignity, safeguard each other’s health, love our neighbors by getting vaccinated, and to pastor our communities accordingly.”