FROM THE ARCHIVES: The 1918 Epidemic and the Churches

The following editorial appeared in The Living Church on October 19, 1918, in the middle of the most severe month of the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, a month in which 195,000 Americans died of the disease. Churches around the nation closed, most for several Sundays, in October 1918.

The very general closing of churches by direction of health authorities presents an extraordinary condition. We have grave doubts of the necessity and of the wisdom of the order, but we have no doubt of the obligation of obedience to it everywhere. We shall earnestly trust that the willingness of all people to obey will not be subjected to an unreasonable strain by keeping the order in force a day more than is deemed absolutely necessary.

For though health authorities ought rigidly to prohibit overcrowding and to compel reasonable ventilation in churches, the instances are few indeed where the danger from the people ordinarily congregated within them is in any sense comparable with that which workers in most factories and in many department stores must continue to face six days in the week. These, obviously, cannot be closed, though a campaign in the interest of thorough ventilation of all buildings in which people congregate might well follow this present danger.

As for the prevailing epidemic, it is a serious matter. Our health authorities must be backed up in whatever requirements or requests that they may set forth. Also, prayer for the cessation of the plague may well be offered; and the suggestion of the Bishop of Milwaukee, to the effect that the clergy, with one or two to represent their congregations, carry on the accustomed services in the church, while the people privately at home engage in prayer at the same hours, may well be observed much beyond the confines of his own diocese.

Beyond that, a daily celebration of Holy Communion may well be established in parishes generally, and a few devout souls be invited to divide the days among them so that the daily sacrifice may be offered with intercession throughout the period of danger. In most places there would be little danger of crowds at these services, and no efforts could be made to bring more than a few each day; yet the parish round of eucharistic intercessions might thus be increased rather than diminished.


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