GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Several faith leaders and top doctors gathered for a brief prayer service in front of Mercy Health Saint Mary’s on Monday afternoon. As the prayer wrapped up, a woman at a nearby bus stop on Jefferson Avenue SE shouted “thank you” multiple times.
Rev. Khary Bridgewater noticed.
“That meant a lot to know that people are standing with our healthcare workers,” Rev. Bridgwater said with a smile. “People appreciate what we’re doing coming out on a cold day like this just to get the message out.”
Rev. Bridgewater said the message was that COVID is still here and that local healthcare workers need support. He helped organize the event, rallying faith leaders within the Kent County Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Team to pray for them.
“Father God we pray for every person who serves in healthcare,” said Bishop Dennis McMurray as he opened the prayer. “Encourage and protect [them] in their daily journey, strengthen in times of weariness, inspire and affirm in the midst of difficulty.”
COVID continues to hit West Michigan hospitals hard. Mercy Health, Spectrum, and University of Michigan Health-West continue to reach max capacity with hospital beds filling up.
“Make no mistake we’ve been at war against a virus for nearly two years,” said Spectrum president Dr. Darryl Elmouchi. “Everyone here is our partner in combatting this virus. And all of our healthcare workers are heroes.”
Health officials said that doctors, nurses and other frontline workers have been feeling exhausted and overwhelmed over the last few weeks, working long hours and in multiple roles.
The faith leaders made a point to specifically pray for them.
“Father, we pray for our first responders, and those who are public servants of our community. Lord we ask you to give them strength and to comfort them as they selflessly serve others,” prayed Chaplain Michelle Jackson of Church Builders Bible Training Center. “Lord give them patience in their hard work. Give them perseverance to endure through this challenging season.”
The group, which represents dozens of churches in the city of Grand Rapids, issued a statement about the four things they will do to support healthcare workers: Eliminate non-essential gatherings, limit essential gatherings to 50 people per 2,000 square-feet, require mask-wearing and social distancing and encourage vaccinations.
“We actually had an early conversation with the University of Michigan Public Health leadership there as well. So, that’s how we got the size number making sure that 50 people per 2,000 square-feet,” said Rev. Bridgwater during an interview after the prayer service. “But, we absolutely know that vaccinations was important. And that the way to go and the easiest way not to get COVID is not to be around people who are sick.”
Kent County’s Chief Inclusion Officer Teresa Branson had been working with Rev. Bridgewater and the Kent County Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Team for over a year about how the faith community can help in the fight against COVID.
Monday, Rev. Bridgewater toured Saint Mary’s, seeing firsthand what frontline workers are dealing with. He said praying for them is the least they can do.
Branson was grateful.
“This event it’s been, it’s overwhelming but also a blessing,” Branson said. “To have all these healthcare system leaders come together today with Kent County, with our Health Department, just again another labor of love in our community in showing that everybody’s willing to come together and do what we can to keep our community healthy and safe.”