WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - Preachers, especially ones with large African American congregations, are talking about more than just salvation these days.
They are using the pulpit to convince their followers to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
"We need to be on the front line trying to get people vaccinated and not to be afraid of it," Pastor Joseph Pierce Sr. of the First Institutional Missionary Baptist Church in Lake Wales told FOX 13.
Pierce has organized three vaccination events at his church, so far.
The first one last month attracted 600 people. The second last week drew 1,000; so many that the event had to be held on two different days.
Pierce says the turnout has been so great because he invited other churches in the Lake Wales area to take part.
"It’s a community effort," he explained. "Together, we can get this thing done."
He also made the application process simple.
Since he was dealing with the 65 and over crowd, he gave them a paper application instead of having them sign up on a computer.
He is just one of the preachers who is trying to convince people to get the shot.
In Winter Haven at The Way at Inwood, the pastor is trying to use the influence he has built up in the community over the last years to encourage people to roll up their sleeves. And he says it is working.
"They just trust us," said Pastor Chris Young.
Other clergies, including many Black pastors, are following suit. This weekend, there were nine church-sponsored vaccination events in Florida. Another seven are planned for this week.
One of the biggest obstacles, especially in the African American community, is overcoming people’s distrust of government.
"I had that on my mind," admitted David Moody, who came to one of Pierce’s events.
"But then I saw that other people were getting it, and they were OK, so I just decided to go and get it done," Moody commented.