By Kirk Petersen
The Bishop of Maine has mandated that all 240 clergy in the diocese, and the 14 members of the diocesan staff, must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of September, becoming the first diocese (with an asterisk) to set such a mandate.
The asterisk involves the Diocese of Oregon, which earlier in August mandated vaccinations for diocesan staff, but not for clergy, who were strongly encouraged to get vaccinated. Both dioceses have exceptions for people who have been advised against vaccination by a physician.
The Maine announcement has been widely publicized nationally. Ironically, any actual effect may happen outside the diocese, which encompasses the entire state. There appears to be very little vaccine resistance among either the clergy or the 1.3 million people in the state. Well over half the clergy have reported they already are vaccinated.
There’s also comparatively little COVID in Maine. Among the 50 states, Maine ranks 50th in terms of new COVID cases in the seven days ending August 25, according to a New York Times database.
The Rt. Rev. Thomas Brown, Bishop of Maine, is not surprised that Maine has the fewest new COVID cases. “Mainers are terribly resilient and terribly relational, and so there is a lot of regard for neighbors,” he told TLC. “Political ideology, religious differences, they sort of pass away in the face of wanting to look out for each other.”
Brown said he’s received no pushback from the new policy, which is “very different from the posture that I’ve held onto for the past 18 months.” His previous practice during the pandemic has been to give local congregations the information they need to make their own decisions about COVID precautions. He recommends mask-wearing for in-person worship, and even though he has not mandated it, he believes that all the churches holding services in person are voluntarily wearing masks. There is no current mask mandate for the state, although there was one earlier in the pandemic.
“This directive is grounded in our baptismal covenant in which we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, love our neighbor, and respect the dignity of every human being. This is a way for us to put those baptismal promises into real-life action,” the bishop said in making the announcement.