Enlist Jets, run raffles to drum up vaccine interest: pastor

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STEINBACH pastor Kyle Penner doesn’t plan to preach a sermon that promotes the benefits of vaccination before the community’s hockey coaches, business owners or piano teachers weigh in.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/04/2021 (475 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

STEINBACH pastor Kyle Penner doesn’t plan to preach a sermon that promotes the benefits of vaccination before the community’s hockey coaches, business owners or piano teachers weigh in.

Not because he is opposed to being vaccinated for COVID-19, (at age 37 he doesn’t yet qualify), but because he believes people who are hesitant about the vaccines will listen to people in their inner circles.

“People generally trust people who they know, like the people who mow each other’s lawns and share lasagna,” the assistant pastor at Grace Mennonite Church said in a phone interview.

SUPPLIED Pastor Kyle Penner of the Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach.

On Wednesday, provincial public health officials asked community leaders, including religious leaders, in the Southern Health region to encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 because of low vaccination rates.

As of Tuesday, the province listed the 10 areas with the lowest vaccination rates, which included the RM of Hanover, near Steinbach at 14.9 per cent, Winkler at 13.6 per cent and 6.1 per cent in the surrounding RM of Stanley. Steinbach was not on that list.

On Thursday, Penner posted a 24-part thread on Twitter suggesting other ways to vaccinate southern Manitobans, beginning with the lines: “Don’t shame and blame. Don’t call us the Bible Belt.”

“I sensed there was some frustration toward southern Manitoba in doing their part, and shaming and blaming is not going to work,” said Penner, who described his hometown as diverse.

“Calling us a Bible Belt is shorthand for calling us ignorant country bumpkins.”

The Steinbach-born pastor encouraged community leaders to use many avenues to promote vaccination, based on interest, relationships and common passions, such as sports or music.

“If people aren’t responding to science and logical arguments, we should use shared values,” he said.

On Twitter, Penner listed practical ways to get out the message, beginning by enlisting people who miss attending hockey games, piano recitals, school field trips, and high school graduations, to encourage others to get vaccinated. He also suggested developing a lesson plan for high school teachers to share the science behind the vaccines.

Penner admitted the work won’t be easy but will pay off in building trust and connections within communities in the region.

“It’s good work to do. It’s the work we do to care for our neighbours and our community,” he said.

“If we have some leaders who won’t step up and do it, let’s find the ones who will.”

Penner ended his Twitter thread with two practical suggestions: get the Winnipeg Jets to say they want their fans back in the stands once they’re vaccinated and offer some incentives.

“Go to every rural community, set up a vaccination tent, and raffle off a quad, dirt bike or snowmobile for everyone ages 18 to 40 who gets vaccinated.”

After that, consider turning to religious leaders, but don’t assume they can turn the tide alone, said Penner, who was overwhelmed with the positive response on social media to his list.

“Congregations are diverse and filled with hundreds of people,” he said.

“Some of them need the pastor’s blessing and some don’t.”

faith@freepress.mb.ca

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