One of the best things we do at St. Dunstan’s is participating in the Family Promise program. We are one of 13 congregations that several times a year open our doors to become “home” for a week for families who don’t have one. During the pandemic instead of moving from congregation to congregation each week, the families stayed for long stretches of time at two churches — St. Luke’s Presbyterian in Dunwoody and Roswell Presbyterian. Both of these are large churches with wings that they graciously turned over to Family Promise. When it was our turn to “host” we provided grocery and gasoline gift cards, and volunteers to spend the night, separated from the families.
Beginning next month the Family Promise congregations will once again host guests in their own churches or synagogues. Our turn is the week of August 15. Our coordinators — Vivian Siggers, Mimi Gold, and Ellen Taratus — began planning for the week. Then we found out that Family Promise is not requiring those in the program to be vaccinated. Vivian, Mimi, and I met with the Family Promise staff to express our concerns, and they were adamant that vaccines could not be required. (Of course, vaccines CAN be required. There are many other requirements for families applying for the program. There is a difference between can’t and won’t.)
After that meeting we talked about ways that we could limit volunteer interaction with our guests and keep everyone safe. But the more I thought about it and the more I talked to others in the congregation the more concerned I became about having a large number of unvaccinated people living in our space. A couple of days ago I was about to call Vivian to say I didn’t think we should do it. But she called me first with the same decision.
Yesterday evening we had a called vestry meeting to discuss this and they unanimously agreed we should not host families at St. Dunstan’s. But we also came up with an alternative plan that will not leave the families in the lurch that week. Instead we will pay (from our outreach funds) for the three families currently in the program. to stay in an extended-stay hotel (with kitchens) for that week. And we will be collecting $25 gift cards for food and gasoline for each of the families. You will soon be receiving a SignUp Genius link to donate cards.
I let the Family Promise director know of our decision today. She said she understood and was grateful that we would pay for the hotels. However, I also told her that our next time up is in November and if the situation has not changed (which is probable) we will not be able to participate at all unless the adults and older kids are vaccinated.
Our lives are slowly returning to normal, but the pandemic is not over. The Delta variant is gaining strength and Covid cases and hospitalizations are up in many places in the country. We can expect that will lead to more deaths. Increasingly younger adults and children are becoming seriously ill. I think most, if not all of us who are eligible have been vaccinated, but we are surrounded by people who have not. Georgia has one of the lowest vaccine rates in the country.
I believe that the vaccines, and the scientists who developed them, are a gift from God. We have the means to end the pandemic. That so many of our fellow Americans refuse to do their part both disturbs and perplexes me.