Local pastor calls for state, local government response to rising COVID-19 cases

Local Coronavirus Coverage

EDITORS NOTE: Brandon Berg’s name was previously reported as Brandon Perg. Editing staff updated the story to change the last name to its correct version.

BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) – Brandon Berg, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Bristol, Tennessee, is the father of three children. He’s also the leader of a congregation that has all but two vaccinated members.

Berg said that he began his time in Bristol in 2017 with church populations declining nationwide, and two years later he faced a challenge that few in the ministry had faced before: a pandemic, lockdowns and a year-long closure of the church.

As the number of new cases flattened and things began looking up, FUMC Bristol moved away from virtual sermons and toward in-person gatherings once again. But after a recent downturn and potential risks from the Delta variant, Berg said he and other church leaders are looking at their options once again.

“I am really concerned about the Delta variant right now,” Berg said. “We just initiated a conversation with our church leadership here at First about coming back together again and seeing if we need to step back and punt.

“So, do we need to rethink what we’re doing in consideration of the delta variant and its higher rate of transmissibility, its increased danger from the original virus to our young people — what do we need to do? So that’s something that we are going to be considering in the next few days.”

Berg also said as a parent to a child that can’t be vaccinated yet, he’s worried about returning to school without mask mandates and has called on state, local and regional officials to offer more protection.

“My call to Speaker [Cameron] Sexton, to Governor Lee to step out in leadership is understanding that they’re coming at their role in leadership as Christian persons,” he said. “And if they’re going to let their faith influence their politics — if they’re going to let their faith influence their decision making — then this has to be a huge part, a huge consideration that’s weighing on the decisions that they’re making.

“How do we care for the most vulnerable among us?”

Berg said that the balance between politics and pulpit has been a difficult one, but that he finds himself in a unique situation.

“The way I have been approaching our involvement in the political sphere and our involvement in some of the justice issues that arise within our area is absolutely shaped by the congregation that I’m serving,” Berg said. “And I’m aware that I have faith-based opinions and political opinions that are contrary to some of my colleagues in this area but they’re also shared by a stunning number of my colleagues in this area.

“I am really simply lucky enough to be appointed to a church where it’s safer for me to speak out some of those opinions than it would be in other places.”

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