In Alabama, the governor ordered the closing of schools, churches, and theaters, to protect the public health. Throughout the country local officials banned large public gatherings, and ordered the closing of businesses, schools and churches. In Philadelphia, city officials launched a campaign against public spitting, coughing, and sneezing, yet ten days later hosted a parade attended by 200,000 people. The first case of the deadly public health hazard occurred at a Kansas military base, but St. Louis had some of the most restrictive measures including quarantining affected people in their homes and banning large public gatherings–and one of the lowest death rates in the country. The death rate during the deadliest period of the new crisis, the first six months was 358 per 100,000 people in St. Louis, while in Philadelphia it was 748 per 100,000.
The year was 1918, and the dreaded disease was not the Coronavirus, but the Spanish flu. By the end of the epidemic in 1920, between 50 to 100 million people died worldwide, including more than 500,000 Americans. Yet, through it all the church of Jesus Christ survived and served its Lord and fellow man, and maybe the church of today can learn from history.
There was no Facebook live for church services back then, no YouTube, no television. Yet, many newspapers of the time reprinted sermons for those stuck at home. Prayers were offered, as well, in newspapers. People were urged to have public altars at home and to spend time reading the Bible and prayer. Some churches mailed copies of sermons, prayer materials, and Bible studies to members. Sermons given for churchless people of city were reprinted, with this introduction by the Birmingham, Alabama, news, “30,000 or more persons who usually wend their way churchward Sunday morning will be spending this Sabbath in their homes. The News presents to them excerpts from the sermons they would have heard had not the ruling of the City Commission closed the churches until the influenza epidemic is checked.”
The Spanish Flu not only did not stop Christians for worshiping God, although it may have changed the method of doing so temporarily, and it also did not stop them for serving Christ and people around them. The Baptist Press reported combined mission giving in Georgia among Baptists for 1918 and 1919 was greater than the ten previous years combined. The Georgia Baptist Children’s Home continued to serve, with 194 of the 350 children ill with the flu. The Brooklyn Baptist Church, in Washington D.C., had those who “visited the church families, keeping track of cases of sickness and following up [with] church finances.” according to an online report. Other churches also found various ways to serve, with the Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside offering its building as a makeshift sanctuary hospital for military trainees recovering from the flu.
Online baptistmission.org, offered a list of ways the church can serve during the current Coronavirus pandemic, including:
- Praying for one another
- Dropping care packages, with such things as tracts and devotional material, soap, tissues, lotion, shampoo, toothpaste, laundry detergent, and snacks on someone’s porch.
- Delivering meals and dropping them off on someone’s porch.
- Making contact by phone with members or those who have visited to determine their needs.
- People have continued to respond to the gospel during the current pandemic. In a television interview, Franklin Graham, well-known evangelist, and the son of the late Billy Graham and head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, elaborated in a television interview on March 21 of this year.
- “Early this week, we began airing a 60-second evangelistic message on TV across the entire United States, and we have had thousands of people call,”he explained on WBTV. “But I want you to know that God loves you, He made you, He created you, He knows everything about your life. You don’t need to be afraid. Jesus said I’ll never leave you nor forsake you.”
- The church still has a lot to look forward to, even during the Covid-19 pandemic.