Deseret News, November 2020
The Rev. Ofa Langi was new to Auburn City Adventist Church when COVID-19 hit. He hadn’t gotten to know his congregants or even the area where the church is located, just outside of Seattle — a city that was an early ground zero for the coronavirus in America. But he immediately realized the pandemic demanded that he pivot from the spiritual toward the corporeal.
His first step was to figure out the immediate needs of the surrounding community. “We talked to our neighborhood when COVID-19 hit and they said, ‘We need food, pastor’” the Rev. Langi recalled. “Some folks were also concerned about COVID testing so (they) could go back to work.”
After hearing the community’s concerns, the Rev. Langi said, “I prayed about it and God provided. … We started COVID testing and food distribution on the same day.” The food distribution program grew into a five-day-a-week service, involving multiple churches, and COVID testing still takes place every Tuesday at this church, which is situated in an immigrant-heavy neighborhood. Both are a form of ministry, according to the Rev. Langi. “We’re doing our best to be the hands and feet of Jesus during this pandemic.”
Similar scenarios are playing out across the country. With many houses of worship either shut down or offering limited spiritual services, they are, instead, using their parking lots as makeshift COVID-19 testing centers. In many cases, they are offering free coronavirus tests in hopes of helping the most vulnerable groups — minorities and immigrants. Churches also serve as a point of contact between public health departments and marginalized communities, making them conduits of information about the disease and prevention.
On the surface, it seems like a simple story about good deeds and pastors rising to the moment. But public health experts and pastors alike explain that some churches are offering COVID testing in part because the communities they serve are mistrustful of the medical industry.