Cathedral vaccinations demonstrate Christianity’s value to society
Several English cathedrals are joining the fight against COVID-19. Combining the advances of science with traditional Christian prayer and music, they may show signs of hope for a new era of Christian relevance.
The pandemic has often brought some quite negative attention onto Christians, especially those who consider gathering together to worship a valid reason to defy social distancing regulations.      Some Christians are changing that narrative by publicly supporting the fight against the virus.
Several cathedrals in England made international newspapers after opening their doors to host mass vaccination efforts for the elderly. During the 12-hour vaccination sessions at Salisbury Cathedral, organists serenade patients and health staff with beautiful music .
This is exactly the kind of visible sign of Christian action that churches need to regain society’s trust, and presents an excellent example for other churches across Europe to follow.
Faith working with science
A great deal of criticism leveled at Christians through the pandemic (and long before 2020) arose from concerns that they ignore scientific evidence.  This vaccination venture shows the British secular society that the Church of England is keen to act in cooperation with scientists, not against them. A doctor working in the cathedral, Dan Henderson, says that cathedrals are naturally excellent spaces for minimising COVID-19 transmission. They are large, open, and often drafty, creating ideal ventilation. He also noted that the music, as well as being delightful aesthetically, serves a medical benefit of lowering patients’ anxiety and improving general mental well-being.
Hosting vaccinations in a familiar, comforting, interesting place such as a church, rather than an anonymous medical clinic, means that patients are more likely to attend. Dr Henderson agrees, saying that the experience transforms it “from a medical intervention to an event, and that really makes patients at ease.” Science and medicine can sometimes seem cold, sterile, and depersonalised. Scientists may benefit from working alongside Christian traditions and values to make their important work more accessible.
A gospel of hope
The Dean of Salisbury Cathedral, the Very Reverend Nicholas Papadopulos, said he offered the cathedral as a vaccination site as soon as he learned of the successful vaccine. He called the venture “a real sign of hope for us at the end of this very, very difficult year.” Indeed, the word ‘hope’ has been flooding secular headlines since COVID-19 vaccines began to be administered late in 2020.
Since its origins, the Christian gospel has been based around its message of hope for humanity: hope for life, hope for redemption, hope for an end of death. While the church leaders interviewed did not make this connection (possibly for fear of turning the vaccination effort into an advertising opportunity), the correspondence between these two messages of hope is striking, and will surely resonate with many. The vaccine rollout is also dependent upon belief: as variants of the virus challenge the efficacy of vaccines, public officials in the UK are urging people to ‘keep the faith’ in the jab. Parallels between science and religion continue to grow.
Showcasing Christianity’s cultural value
At a time in which Christianity’s reputation has been hit hard, hosting vaccinations in its cathedrals will help to convince people that the Church of England has a vital role to play in society. The church’s action is based upon the foundation of the Christian message of charity and almsgiving. Dean Papadopulos bolsters the vaccination with a Christian touch: “we assure them of our constant prayers.” Much of the music the organists first chose to play were classics of the Christian repertoire, by composers like Bach and Mozart.
But the sight of dozens of pensioners receiving lifesaving treatment in churches also reminds secular society of Christianity’s benefit that goes beyond beliefs and prayers.
Christianity arrived in Britain over 1,400 years ago, and much of the country’s structures, ideals, and values are based upon it.  It inherits a rich cultural legacy, that is only now being rediscovered by many. Salisbury Cathedral has been described as the most beautiful vaccination site in the world, with its soaring arches and majestic stained glass windows. Many of those vaccinated describe how wonderful it is to hear live music again, and see other people, after nearly a year of confinement. By popular demand, the organists are supplementing their traditional classical music with old-time show tunes that resonate with over-80s. They even take requests. This all goes to prove that the Church of England is a living, flexible, human force for good.
The member of parliament for Lichfield, Michael Fabricant, appropriately tweeted: ‘They came in the middle ages for the cure. They still come today.’ As the vaccine rollout continues, churches across Europe can learn from these English cathedrals. Not only does a church fulfil its stated mission of charity and serving the community, but it also provides an olive leaf to scientific communities – a gesture of solidarity and cooperation amidst division and suspicion. More than this, churches can combine the most prominent symbol of hope in today’s world – the COVID-19 vaccine – with their own Christian promise.
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