By Dave Wilson
When I was a kid I first learned about some of the great plagues in recorded history; not only the Black Plague, but many others including when smallpox ravaged much of the New World over a period of more than 300 years (A friend of mine has a Native American niece who is quite assimilated and not overtly bitter toward Europeans. She calls Columbus Day/Indigenous People’s Day “Smallpox Day”). Many poor countries in the world regularly have plagues of fatal diseases today even when there is not a worldwide outbreak of a novel virus. It has always fascinated me that during times when sick people were often boarded into their homes to die and many bodies were not properly disposed of because of justifiable fear of disease, some people took care of large numbers of the sick and dying. Today we see countless examples of this as health care workers and others risk death to care for them. In the past as now, this includes Christian people and those from other religions risking their own lives to provide religious comfort or other supportive care to the sick.
The last major nearly worldwide influenza plague, often called the Spanish Flu (naming a plague for another country has not gone out of style today; that virus almost certainly emerged in the central U.S. and spread to Europe via WWI soldiers) took place 100 years ago. All of the same arguments, politicization, unwillingness to strongly enforce laws and fines or for some to wear masks, insistence by some that the plague was not real and resultant deaths that we see today also took place a century ago. Many people recognized that parades, large gatherings, reopening of bars and theaters, etc. were followed by massive death loss; bodies rotted on the sidewalks in some major cities. It is not my purpose here to inflame these arguments or proclaim which “side is wrong”. We all see enough of that every day. I only point out that not much has changed in 100 years. However, another aspect of plagues in history is that frequently there has been reluctance to avoid large gatherings in church or other religious spaces, and strong desire by people to continue singing in close proximity to each other. Funeral attendance has often been a subject of some controversy as well. For some, large wedding gatherings have now been postponed and the joyous day of marriage has not been celebrated as it would have been for all but a few years in the 25,000 year history of people on this continent. The time for commemoration of the departed and celebrations will come again.
Prince of Peace has dealt with all of these issues regarding life, spirituality, weddings, sickness and death.
The difficult decision to stop indoor church services and group singing in close quarters was made. This included telling the congregation that shares our building - and happens to be at higher risk of death loss because of demographics - that they could not meet there either. No other large events can take place in our building for now. Because we are saving on less expenditure of some parts of our budget this year, we as a church are giving more financial support to community needs organizations, but the need continues to grow. A dedicated group of people worked tirelessly for approximately two months to clean and do other tasks so that Narcotics Anonymous could have two meetings each week in our building. We were told that those meetings represented two of the three weekly NA meetings available in the entire valley. Recently, considering the overwhelming of the health care system and the unprecedented new infection rate of the virus, we stopped hosting the NA meetings. These are by no means clear cut or easy decisions, and for some the “right answer” may not be what has been done; I do not claim to know for sure. As an epidemiologist and a biologist I strongly believe we have done the best for all. Nevertheless, I also want to acknowledge that those who visit or take care of the sick, help with grieving for those who have gone on to the Church Triumphant, and have gone to the fullest measure to support activities such as substance abuse support groups are the true embodiment of the Carpenter from Nazareth. News came today that the single most promising vaccine so far has also shown that any vaccinated individual contracting the coronavirus has not become sick with any serious clinical signs in the trials to this point. As King Charles II is supposed to have said, the plague rouses men and women from their sleep. We are all awake now, and I hope and expect we will stay that way for the rest of our lives after this pandemic ends.
This blog is run by the council members of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Logan, UT. For more information, check out our church's website at princeopeace.org.