A man of faith who is also dedicated to the pursuit of science recently helped Johnston residents most vulnerable to the effects of coronavirus receive their second vaccination shot just in time for Easter.
Last Saturday, the Rev. Dr. Christopher Abhulime of The King's Tabernacle Church in Johnston exchanged his white clerical collar for a white medical lab coat when he volunteered to give vaccination shots to those aged 75 and older at a clinic held in the town’s Indoor Recreation Center.
“I felt the need to support the community and help stop COVID,” Abhulime said. “Whatever I can do to be part of this effort to crush COVID, I have to do it. For me, it’s mandatory, it is a calling as much as I do my spiritual aspect.”
Known to many in the community as Pastor Chris, he is the founding pastor of the Pentecostal non-denominational church located at the former Belknap Community Church on Greenville Avenue. Less known may be his scientific background. While Abhulime earned a diploma in theology, he has also earned a master’s of science in clinical laboratory sciences degree, and a doctor of veterinary medicine degree. He is a clinical/biopharmaceutical scientist with more than 15 years of experience in clinical immunology, diagnostic testing, clinical trials and lab automation.
Abhulime is also a registered nurse, and in two weeks he will finish his nurse practitioner studies at Regis College. Recently, he was named deputy chief of staff to Gov. Dan McKee.
“Professionally, I’ve worked in biotech for a while, but also I’m in the health care sector. To come into the vaccination clinic last week was using my skills from my nursing training. I felt the need to support the community and help stop COVID,” Abhulime said. “The more hands on deck as far as participating in community efforts the better it is for the community. Because I’m in Johnston and my operation is in Johnston, it was a community response for me to be there with my community and to be giving shots to people, some of whom I know.”
Mayor Joseph Polisena, who also provided shots in his capacity as registered nurse, was stationed directly next to Abhulime during the clinic.
“This is a community effort and Pastor Chris is obviously vetted in our community, which is great, and I was glad he could help,” Polisena said. “It was nice that he took time to help ensure that our residents are safe.”
Johnston Police Chief Joseph Razza, who has spearheaded all of the town’s coronavirus clinics for the last two months, appreciated the pastor’s efforts.
“It’s truly inspirational to work side by side and hand in hand with these devout community leaders,” Razza said. “We are all committed to beating this pandemic and I truly appreciate Pastor Chris and for taking the time out of his busy schedule to assist us at our clinics.”
Since the pandemic began, Abhulime has promoted COVID awareness and been an advocate for vaccination. He has also appeared in Department of Health campaigns and advertisements.
“It’s humbling to be able to participate. On the other side, it’s something that we have to do because if we don’t control COVID we’re not able to go back to life as we knew it,” he said. “For me, it’s really being in the forefront, whether I be on television or the radio or social media educating people, and to have conversations within the minority community to educate everybody as far as COVID is concerned.”
Abhulime said that he has been vaccinated and wants to share his personal experiences with the community, especially the minority community. He added that it was important educate men about the benefits of the vaccine, because women are currently being vaccinated at higher rates.
“We need all the men, black and white, to be out there and taking their shots,” he said.
The past year has been challenging for Pastor Chris, his parishioners and his church, as attendance of services was hampered by lockdowns and restrictions placed on crowd sizes.
“I cannot have church services, people don’t come to church because of COVID. We can’t have people getting sick because they don’t know that they should be vaccinated, so for me it’s a calling to be part of this effort at all levels,” he said.
Pastor Chris said that he will continue to help provide vaccinations at the town’s upcoming clinics. With spring and Easter Sunday now here, he has a message about the renewal of life in a post COVID world helped by vaccines.
“The vaccine has been tested, it is safe, and it stops severe illness and death. Every single person who is qualified to take it, if it’s your turn to take it, go get it,” he said. “That is how we’ll stop the spread of COVID, and that’s how we’re going to open the economy again, get schools reopened and people back to school, get businesses open, get churches and places of worship open, and that’s how we’re going to go back to life as we knew it."