Partners in Health and Wholeness (PHW), an initiative of the North Carolina Council of Churches, is designed to bridge issues of faith, health, and justice. We partner with faith communities to provide the necessary tools for healthy, whole, and abundant living. Through these spotlights, we will be sharing an overview of the programs and initiatives of some of our partner congregations doing great work. For more information on how to join the Collaborative, visit healthandwholeness.org.
MAXTON, NC – The PHW team is excited to share that one of our longtime Collaborative member partners, St. Matthew’s Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) Church, will be hosting free COVID-19 testing this Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at RB Dean Townsend Middle School in Maxton, NC. Francine McLaurin, health-lead at St. Matthews Metropolitan AMEZ and certified Registered Nurse, caught-up with us to discuss how this opportunity began: “When the pandemic came about our minister [the Rev. Dr. Donald Thomas] told us that he had been praying about what we could do as a body of Christ to reach out to the community, keeping in mind we are not able to go into the church for regular services and ministry. Even though we are not physically in the building, we were thinking ‘what else can we do?’ Our elder asked us to do community outreach in the form of a food drive, so we collected nonperishable food items and were able to serve at least 100 hundred families in one part of our district, with a goal of serving a different part of our district each quarter. Rev. Thomas also lifted up in his prayers the hope for St. Matthews to do some type of COVID testing. Then, less than 24 hours after he mentioned his prayers to us, the Assistant Director of the Robeson County Health Department gave me a call asking us about hosting a COVID drive-thru testing site. That’s how that worked out — it’s just God’s will. God will work things out.”
The testing site will be operated in partnership with the Robeson County Department of Public Health and Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE), a nonprofit organization founded after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to address immediate emergency relief. The testing site will be open to individuals asymptomatic and symptomatic age 16 years or older. Persons interested in testing are highly encouraged to pre-register here.
Ms. McLaurin expressed how thrilled the church is for this opportunity to serve the community. St. Matthews has come together with fellow community leaders to work out the details and plans for the testing to go smoothly: “We initially wanted to do it at the church, but the grounds are too small for the setup. There is a public school across the street, and after the health department got in touch with the board of education, they were approved to set up the testing site there. We feel very good about this. We met with the principal of the school and a representative from the health department, trustees, stewards, members of the health and wellness ministry, chief of police, and a representative from the Maxton Chamber of Commerce, to discuss what we could do. We were able to see ourselves as a marketing body for this because even though we don’t have much of a digital presence, individuals in our community have their means of getting information out. I have been in contact with the principal of the host school, the mayor, county commissioners, local businesses, radio stations, and newspapers. A lot of people in our community, especially seniors, do not have computers and don’t get the newspaper, so this marketing effort has been important. I was also able to speak with an individual who has volunteered 2 of his transports and 2 of his staff to provide rides, because in Maxton a lot of people don’t have transportation, and this testing site is drive-thru only, no pedestrians allowed on the campus unless they are volunteers. We are trying to take away the challenges and barriers that our people might face.”
Like so many other communities across the state and nation, Maxton has really felt the toll of this pandemic. Ms. McLaurin discussed that for so many, access to what many of us see as basic resources has been worsened: “I’ve spoken directly to some folks and found out they didn’t have transportation which was a big reason I worked to find that for our drive thru testing. I also spoke to someone who was asymptomatic and tested positive for COVID-19. After her self-quarantine, she didn’t have transportation anymore, so she lost her job. There’s that fear that people are feeling. I just spoke to someone whose family member in the hospital tested positive, and now they along with other family members who serve as caregivers are extremely concerned. Overall there is just a lot of fear, and people just don’t talk about when they test positive because they don’t want that association.”
The mental health toll the pandemic has taken on their community has been difficult as well. For many, worshipping and fellowshipping together in the same space was an important spiritual practice. Ms. McLaurin touched on her and the church’s efforts to keep in touch with their community: “I have called my friend [who is 89] every day to check on and see how she is doing. It keeps me going and keeps her going – I call it her ‘ministry!’ I have also reached out to people on my class list, and attended webinars about mental health during this time. In our church, we have class leaders and members of the congregations that we try to reach out to at least once a month to check-up on as well. My Uncle Aaron (I call him that even though we aren’t related!) who is 90 years old was worried about coming to church, but I reminded him that we are holding service outside and no one is allowed out of their cars, and we all have our masks. He started coming and that has really made a difference.”
Right now a lot of faith communities are staying connected from a distance, so they have adapted to using zoom for small groups (book clubs, listening to podcasts together, etc.), check-ins, deacon/pastoral care visits. Everyone is feeling the effects of COVID-19 differently, but rural areas have been hit hardest, especially without access to broadband.
But God is working through many regions in North Carolina as we see exemplified through the ministry at St. Matthews. We are seeing and feeling trauma, fear, and insecurity, but also healing, and resilience. We’re holding our connections closer than as we continue to social distance and await the time when we can be together again.
The flyers with information about the COVID-19 drive thru testing in Maxton are available in English here and in Spanish here. For more information, contact the Robeson County Health Department at 910-671-3200.