Now, Governor Roy Cooper wants them to use that trust to help convince more people to get vaccinated.
"Faith leaders from all religious backgrounds can be trusted figures within their communities," Cooper said at the Tuesday briefing from his COVID-19 Task Force. "Their word can go a long way."
At Durham's Union Baptist Church, one of the city's final few churches still holding Sunday service strictly online, its 5,000 members are prayerfully waiting for the pandemic to loosen its grip on the Triangle, before going back to in-person worship.
"We're moving in the right direction. And we just need to keep pushing, keep educating," said Union Baptist Pastor Prince Rivers. He told ABC11 he is all-in on the governor's call to action for faith leaders to take an even larger role in persuading parishioners to get the COVID shot.
“We’re moving in the right direction. We just need to keep pushing.”— Joel Brown (@JoelBrownABC11) September 22, 2021
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Durham pastor Prince Rivers says he’s all in on Governor’s Cooper’s call for faith leaders to help push for more people to get vaccinated. #abc11 • AT 11 pic.twitter.com/fMq3NXJrXQ
Cooper said he wants faith leaders statewide to be vaccine ambassadors. The governor is counting on spiritual leaders to cut through the clutter of COVID conspiracies.
"We're definitely seeing misinformation," Rivers said. "I think people are looking at social media, they are following conspiracy theories."
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Pastor Rivers has been preaching COVID safety and vaccination necessity from the pulpit for months as the church staged vaccination clinics for its congregation and the community. Rivers said there are plans in the works to use the church's YouTube page to post testimonials from vaccinated people.
"This will have both the perspective of medical professionals in our church, but also the testimonies of ordinary non-scientists -- members of the church who have received the vaccine talking about their experience with it and why they got it. Because we think that that will help bring in some of the folks that may still be reluctant," River said.
In their open letter to faith leaders, Governor Cooper and Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen reminded churches that there is help from the state standing by to organize vaccination clinics. The Healthier Together team can coordinate logistics for churches who host a vaccination site.