Week 11 – Churchless Sundays

This week Covid-19 (AKA, coronavirus) became real in Michigan. Universities, schools, colleges, seminaries, sports leagues, churches, and more all went online, to restricted hours and access, or shut down. People did runs for food and other basic household necessities, to the point that stores had lines to get in and two-hour lines to checkout.

“Social distancing” has become the phrase of the week, perhaps the phrase of the year.

I did not have–or did not take–much time to photograph because I have been preparing to teach online. And, as an archivist, I’ve been in library management meetings about whether and how to remain open to some degree. So the pictures were not a priority.

For some historical perspective, check out this post from Heritage Hall’s blog Origins Online. It’s about “The Flu Epidemic of 1918-1919 and ‘Churchless Sunday.'” The first part is about public health responses to the influenza epidemic in 1918-1919; the second part is about the impact on churches, including being forced to cancel Sunday services in Michigan for a time. There are lessons to be learned.

Be forthright about the danger. Act quickly. Keep social distancing policies in place longer rather than shorter. Don’t panic. This is the way to slow the spread of the epidemic and reduce the likelihood of hospitals from being overwhelmed. (In Italy, where I have family, doctors are being forced to choose who gets life-saving treatment and who does not.)

The weather this weekend has contrasted to the state, national, and global sense of crisis. We’ve enjoyed some beautiful skies and bright sun. Here’s what the sunrise looked like yesterday. Pink skies in every direction.

And in the spirit of “churchless Sundays,” here are three shots of the parking lot at Church of the Servant Christian Reformed Church, where I am a member. Empty. Normally this lot is packed full at 10AM. We got the word late in the week that “COS” would be canceling public events, including Sunday services, for the duration of the crisis.


The colors belie the emergency.

Right now I think many people are in that stage of fear and anxiety about the danger to life and loved ones, the unknowns beyond life and death (economy?) where they still have a sense of agency. “We’ve got this.” I’ve seen that at work, as my colleagues and I plan to teach online. There has been a lot of positive energy, as people figuring out technology that is new to them–e.g., Microsoft Teams. And a lot of esprit de corps, and we help each other figure it out.

My guess is that as technology fails, on occasion, or at least does not work smoothly, and as the health and economic realities of the crisis wash over us over the next few months, that “we’ve got this” sense of agency will come and go and sometimes be replaced by weariness and despair.

For Monday morning, at least, I feel like “I’ve got this.” I’ll see where my students are over the next week. Those who have communicated with me seem to have the mix of emotions that I’ve described.

Wash your hands a lot. And don’t touch your face! Stay healthy.

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