May. 27, 2020

USA churches offer “A Time to Mourn" as COVID-19 deaths near 100,000

Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

26 May 2020

As the names of thousands of loved ones scrolled across their computer screens, many in the USA paused to mourn as the nation observed Memorial Day weekend. On 24 May, the National Council of Churches (USA) hosted “A Time to Mourn,” an online ecumenical memorial service for lives lost to COVID-19.

Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland-Tune, the council’s chief operating officer and minister of Congregational Life for Clifton Park Baptist Church in Maryland, expressed gratitude for the opportunity to come together.

“Faith leaders from across the country and from a broad spectrum of Christian traditions are participating in this service, but we are doing it online to try to remain safe and healthy,” she said. “We know that, in all things, Jesus bears our burdens and we do not bear them alone.”

Being severely limited in the ability to gather makes grief even more painful, reflected Jim Winkler, the council’s president and general secretary.

“Traditional funerals are not available to us,” said Winkler. “Therefore, today the ecumenical community holds this online memorial service for the more than 300,000 people worldwide who have lost their lives to COIVD-19,” said Winkler. “We do not know when this plague will leave us or even if we will exercise the collective discipline to hold it at bay.”

In a sermon, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, Rev. Michael Curry, reflected that, while coping with death is not easy for anyone, grieving in these times is even more difficult because we must remain physically distant from each other.

“Because in times like this we need to hold each other up,” said Curry. “Those who have died during this time, many have not had the comfort of having family and loved ones around them.”

And many people have not been able to bury their dead, he said. “Families have not been able to gather in the same way,” Curry said. “There is sadness, there is grief, there is mourning, there is hardship.”

Archbishop Dr Vicken Aykazian, World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee member and a legate of the Armenian Apostolic Church, offered a prayer, asking people to reach out with love and mercy to each other.

“All over the world, parents hold dying children, children tearfully bury parents, brothers and sisters are lost to eternity,” he said. “Friends and neighbors mourn.”

Our global family is sharing a grief that is both overwhelming and consuming, Aykazian said. “Humbly and with a heavy heart, I stand before you searching for words that will bring a sense and comfort in this time of anguish,” he said. “We all feel helpless but this is a time we must look to our Lord for his intervention.”

He urged people to play for an end to the deadly scourge. “Today I urge we pray for families and friends who mourn the loss of loved ones,” he said. “Today I urge we pray for those first responders, many of whom have given the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives.”

And pray for each other, Aykazian said. “We are brothers and sisters in this global community and must reach out with love and mercy.”

Bishop Teresa Jefferson- Snorton of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, who also serves on the WCC Central Committee, prayed for those whose hearts are breaking. “We especially pray for those who are mourning during COVID-19 because our rituals and traditions have been radically altered,” said said. “For those who today live with uncertainty because they cannot see loved ones or they don't know what tomorrow brings, we pray for them as well.”