“We believe that we have a responsibility that goes beyond ourselves, and that we should do something for society with the resources we have,” Herbst explained. “We’re not doctors and we’re not professionals. But we have the space and we have volunteers who can organize something like this.”

The pastor opened the wrought-iron doors of St. Petri Church in the German city of Chemnitz and sighed with relief when he saw the long line of people waiting in the cold for shots against the coronavirus.

Together with the parish council, the Rev. Christoph Herbst had invited in a relief organization and volunteer doctors to conduct a Sunday vaccination clinic at the Lutheran church. The act of community outreach, the pastor knew, might not go over well in a part of Germany prone to vaccine resistance, including sometimes violent protests.

“I was very insecure about how people would react to our offer,” Herbst said as he welcomed the waiting crowd into his neo-Gothic house of prayer. “In our region, there are very different and very polarized views about the coronavirus measures in general, about how to fight the pandemic, and especially about the vaccinations.”

Saxony state, where Chemnitz and the city of Dresden are located, has the lowest vaccination rate among Germany’s 16 federal states, and one of the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases. Only 60.1% of residents were fully vaccinated by Christmas, compared to the nationwide average of 70.8%. At some points in the pandemic, local hospitals had to transfer patients out of state because all the intensive care beds were full.

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