In Norfolk, Virginia, Second Calvary Baptist Church bills itself as “A community church with a global vision.” During the pandemic, Senior Pastor Geoffrey Guns has been on a mission to keep that community safe, especially, he says, because COVID-19 has “disproportionately wreaked havoc” among its Black residents.
When coronavirus shots became available earlier this year, Guns teamed up with leaders from more than 40 African American churches to host a vaccine clinic at Second Calvary Baptist Church. And after the pastor led an August funeral for the area’s first youth COVID fatality, he enlisted help from local resources to take vaccinations door to door.
Second Calvary Baptist Church Pastor: ‘It’s Important’ to ‘Be in This Neighborhood’
This fall, Guns has worked to bring COVID vaccinations to three public-housing neighborhoods near downtown Norfolk. Every week, he partners with Greg Johnston of Urban Discovery Ministry and nurse Denise Lassiter to go door to door to inform and vaccinate residents.
On their first outing, only one person was vaccinated, says Guns. “But over the last several months, we have seen a steady increase, and we are averaging 18 to 20 appointments every week.” Their total so far is 124 shots.
Vaccine hesitancy is high in the area, the Second Calvary Baptist Church pastor says, so “it’s important that we be in this neighborhood helping people get vaccinated.” While some people are “simply afraid,” he says, others are hesitant “because they have been fed a lot of misinformation.”
Guns credits nurse Lassiter with informing residents and encouraging them to get vaccinated. “She’s able to kind of talk to them—mother them—and it really makes a difference,” he says, comparing her to a beloved school cafeteria worker.
Community members who’ve received shots from the traveling team speak highly of the process. They “talk you through it and let you know the pros and cons,” says one. Another, a cancer survivor, had “heard a lot of bad rumors” about the vaccine before talking to Lassiter. And a man who’d previously resisted getting the shot says, “At the end of the day, I want to live, and I want everybody else to live, so I got the shot.”
‘You Have to Be Where the People Are’
Through his vaccination efforts, Pastor Guns seeks to honor the life of Schwanda “Shay-Shay” Corprew, a 17-year-old who died from COVID complications in late July. The youngest of seven daughters, Corprew was the first juvenile coronavirus-related fatality in the Norfolk region. She was scheduled to receive the vaccine just three days before she died—of what family members initially thought was just a cold.