COVID-19 vaccination named missional priority

Translate Page

Key points:

 • A United Methodist leadership body calls denomination to address COVID-19 vaccine inequities as a “missional priority.”

 • The Connectional Table’s action aims to strengthen United Methodist efforts already under way to get shots in arms.

 • Church leaders also hope to relieve fears and counter misinformation about the vaccines.

A United Methodist leadership body declared increasing vaccinations against COVID-19 a denomination-wide “missional priority.”

The Connectional Table’s move aims to make the fight against the coronavirus as much a focus as previous denominational initiatives to combat malaria and Ebola.

The leadership body also hopes to bolster current United Methodist efforts to counter misinformation and get more shots in arms.

“With more than 4 and half million deaths and counting worldwide from COVID-19 and vast disparities in vaccine distribution, there is a clear need for a massive and sustained effort to address this tragedy,” said the Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, the group’s chief connectional ministries officer.

The 64-member Connectional Table acts as a sort of international church council that works to harmonize ministry and resources across general agencies and other church entities. Part of the group’s purpose is to coordinate the program life of the church with Gospel mandates, the denomination’s mission and global needs in mind.

Tuesdays at the Table

Starting in October, the Connectional Table will offer a new online discussion series titled “Tuesdays at the Table: Should I stay? Or should I go?”

The series, held in cooperation with general agencies and other contributors, comes as the denomination is weighing a possible split. Discussions will explore topics aimed at helping United Methodists better understand their faith, their church and themselves.

The sessions will premiere at 10 a.m. U.S. Central time starting Oct. 5 on Facebook. Discussions will also be available for later viewing at and the UMC YouTube channel.

Read press release.

In light of that purpose, Bigham-Tsai said the Connectional Table has a role to play in responding to the pandemic. She presented a motion from the Connectional Table’s executive committee at the Sept. 1 virtual meeting.

After a time for small-group discussion and a few amendments related to word order, the Connectional Table’s voting members adopted that motion:

“As an expression of discipleship and love of neighbor, the Connectional Table calls The United Methodist Church to address the inequities of COVID-19 vaccine access and education as a missional priority. We call the whole United Methodist Church to a prophetic and missional response to the critical need for global vaccine equity, access and education.”

While there was broad agreement on the motion, the leadership body is still working out the details of how to carry it out. 

A number of members noted that they did not want to micromanage church ministries. But they also wanted to have a clear way to measure progress, just as the denomination’s Imagine No Malaria campaign set a goal of raising $75 million to fight the mosquito-borne disease. Ultimately, the initiative raised more than $77 million.

Bigham-Tsai said one metric should be if vaccination rates go up.

Members agreed that identifying vaccination as “a missional priority” is significant.

The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s policy book, defines a missional priority as “a response to a critical need in God’s world that calls The United Methodist Church to a massive and sustained effort through primary attention and ordering or reordering of program and budget.”

Typically, General Conference — the denomination’s top legislative assembly — adopts new missional priorities. However, the pandemic already has twice pushed back the big meeting, originally set for May 2020, and is complicating plans to keep to the new schedule of Aug. 29-Sept. 6, 2022, in Minneapolis.

“We can’t wait for General Conference to act. That’s too late,” said Dave Nuckols, using the meeting’s chat function. He is the Connectional Table’s treasurer and a General Conference delegate from Minnesota.

He later added that the emphasis should be on caring for people around the globe, not fixing General Conference’s scheduling woes.   

Nordic-Baltic Area Bishop Christian Alsted, Connectional Table chair, said naming a missional priority does not require General Conference action. He also saw no need for the Connectional Table to consider budget reallocations.

“It is a proposal about focus,” he said.

How to help

He pointed out that many United Methodists already are working to help people get inoculated.

Since the beginning of this year, United Methodist congregations, colleges and medical professionals have been working to extend access and overcome vaccine skepticism. U.S. churches have found success holding mobile vaccination clinics, hosting community discussions and sharing video testimonies of why members chose to be vaccinated.

The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries — the denomination’s mission agency — has been working since the pandemic began to help poorer countries respond to COVID-19. Now that work has turned to vaccines, Roland Fernandes, the agency’s top executive, told the Connectional Table.

“We work through our health boards across Africa and we are focusing on education,” Fernandes said. “We are also trying to prepare our health facilities to help with vaccine distribution. Some of our facilities are already distribution centers for the vaccine.”

He added that the agency has distributed several hundred grants around the world from the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s COVID-19 response fund. The agency also is working with ecumenical partners to address the contagion’s menace.

The Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, said her agency is working daily in the U.S. and at the United Nations to promote policies and regulations that provide greater access to vaccines worldwide.

Still, both Fernandes and Henry-Crowe acknowledge that great disparities in vaccine availability persist. Multiple Connectional Table members mentioned that misinformation and fearmongering about the lifesaving vaccines also continue to hinder distribution.

As of Sept. 1, about 53% of the total U.S. population is fully vaccinated.

According to data collected by Johns Hopkins University, that percentage drops precipitously in poorer countries. The fully vaccinated population is about 12.9% in the Philippines, 11.2% in Zimbabwe, 2.2% in Mozambique and less than half a percent in Sierra Leone.

The U.S. has started to administer booster shots to people who are immunocompromised, and there are discussions about the possibility of boosters for others.

While the World Health Organization has criticized the push for boosters when so many countries are still struggling to provide a first dose, Connectional Table members offered a different perspective.

“We have to be clear that while we are concerned about issues of equity and justice around vaccines, we should not stop people from getting booster shots if needed,” said North Katanga Area Bishop Mande Muyombo, incoming chair of the Connectional Table.

“The message is we have to encourage everyone to have vaccines.”

Hahn is assistant news editor for UM News. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Friday Digests.

Like what you're reading? Support the ministry of UM News! Your support ensures the latest denominational news, dynamic stories and informative articles will continue to connect our global community. Make a tax-deductible donation at

Sign up for our newsletter!

Disaster Relief
United Methodist pastors and disaster management team leaders evaluate a rainwater-harvesting tank that was installed a month earlier in the Novele community in the Davao Area of the Philippines. The United Methodist Church distributed the drums to more than 30 households and three community centers in the region. Pictured (from left to right) are the Rev. Marlyn N. Nabatilan, an unnamed neighbor, recipient Janeth Erandio, the Rev. Jerson Sanggo and team leaders Eddie Danglapen, Fe Tomas and Maurice Bigaran. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Dan Reuben L. Sison.

Water project improves lives in the Philippines

Davao Area Disaster Management Office disaster management team distributes drums to harvest rainwater to more than 30 families and three community centers in neighborhoods that don’t have a reliable source for clean water.
Global Health
The United Methodist Church, in partnership with the Congolese government, has installed a research laboratory at United Methodist Tunda General Hospital in Tunda, Congo, to help fight the monkeypox epidemic that has been plaguing the region since late 2021. In this 2022 file photo, members of the Congolese government tour the area that will house the lab. Photo by Philippe Kituka Lolonga, UM News.

Church, Congolese government unite against monkeypox

The United Methodist Church is housing a monkeypox research laboratory at the church’s Tunda General Hospital in Maniema province. The laboratory will help combat the monkeypox epidemic that has been raging in the region since 2021.
Central Conferences
Bishop Tracy S. Malone blesses the communion elements during a service at the East Ohio Annual Conference on June 8. Malone is the convener of the joint task force that brought together members of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, the Connectional Table and developers of the Christmas Covenant to refine proposed legislation that would put the different geographical regions of the global church on more even footing. File photo courtesy of East Ohio Conference Communications.

Efforts for regionalization move forward

Two United Methodist leadership bodies each unanimously affirmed the direction of legislation, still being refined, to put regions of The United Methodist Church on more even footing.

United Methodist Communications is an agency of The United Methodist Church

©2023 United Methodist Communications. All Rights Reserved