(RNS) — I thought I knew a little about my family’s history.
I’ve written about my grandfather Lloyd Lee Ross, whose World War II service earned him a Bronze Star Medal and a Purple Heart. Papa died in 2011 at age 93.
I’ve visited the rural West Tennessee cemetery where generations of my relatives — going all the way back to my great-great-great-great-grandfather Daniel Ross (1791-1842) — are buried.
But not until the COVID-19 crisis hit did I learn about the global influenza pandemic of 1918 — known colloquially as the Spanish flu — and my family’s connection to it.
I knew that Papa lost his father when he was a baby. It turns out that my great-grandfather William Charles Ross died on Nov. 15, 1918, at age 35, from the flu pandemic. Papa, the youngest of William Charles’ five children, was nine days shy of eight months old.
I appreciate my Uncle Chuck educating me on these details from our family’s past.
This is not the first time churches in Alabama have shut down public gathering for worship. See what clergy said during the flu pandemic in 1918. https://t.co/vg61WqMyn2
— Greg Garrison (@greg_garrison) April 17, 2020
Given my interest in religion, I am grateful, too, for the journalists digging through newspaper archives to report on how houses of worship responded to the 1918 pandemic, which killed nearly 700,000 in the U.S. and 50 million globally.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Peter Smith wrote a fascinating piece on the subject, as did the Birmingham News’ Greg Garrison. For Religion News Service, Megan Botel and Isaiah Murtaugh related a Los Angeles church’s “tale of two pandemics, 100 years apart.”
At The Gospel Coalition, Joe Carter offered “9 things you should know about the 1918 influenza pandemic.” And Word & Way editor Brian Kaylor interviewed a historian who says the 1918 pandemic shows churches can survive shutdowns.
Power up: The week’s best reads
I have a short list of journalists who could write the phone book (this ancient reference will make sense to a few) and I’d read it.
That list includes Jennifer Berry Hawes, a Pulitzer Prize-winning special projects writer for the Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, and author of the must-read “Grace Will Lead Us Home” about the 2015 Emanuel AME Church massacre.
Trust me, you’ll want to take time to read Hawes’ compelling narrative about an Anglican bishop who survived the coronavirus.
I wish this wasn’t about me. But it is. Grateful is too small a word to express how I feel about what the Lord has done for me – and for all those who have/are praying for my recovery. @standrewsmp @The_ACNA @JenBerryHawes https://t.co/J1AlYYZTut
— Bishop Steve Wood (@revstevewood) April 19, 2020
“Multiple churches increasingly share one pastor. It’s an old model making a comeback amid new cultural dynamics,” notes G. Jeffrey MacDonald.
MacDonald is a veteran religion writer and author of the new book “Part-Time Is Plenty: Thriving Without Full-Time Clergy.”
His enlightening Christian Science Monitor cover story explores how the pastor-sharing trend is “shaping church life, faith identities and the future.”
Churches across the U.S. are sharing preachers to keep their doors open. It’s changing the culture in the pews. https://t.co/X0urd7dxFS
— The Christian Science Monitor (@csmonitor) April 14, 2020
COVID-19 has hit New York City-area Hasidic Jewish families especially hard, reports Liam Stack, the Metropolitan religion writer for The New York Times.
In a deep piece, impressive both for its specific details and its broad context, Stack explores how “the epidemic has killed influential religious leaders and torn through large, tight-knit families.”
The coronavirus has hit the Hasidic community in NY with devastating force, killing influential religious leaders and tearing through large, tight-knit families at a rate that the data suggest may exceed that of other ethnic or religious groups. https://t.co/2X4bKwqLeY
— Liam Stack (@liamstack) April 21, 2020
More top reads: Inside the fringe Japanese religion that claims it can cure COVID-19, Sam Kestenbaum, New York Times … Spiritual counselors adapt to serve faithful during pandemic, Elana Schor and Mariam Fam, Associated Press … The loneliness pandemic: The elderly in ICUs battle coronavirus and solitude, Claire Giangravé, Religion News Service … Orthodox Jewish women are facing an impossible choice right now, Emma Green, The Atlantic … The pandemic has put an end to door-knocking for Jehovah’s Witnesses, Dionne Searcey, New York Times … One Harlem church, nine coronavirus deaths, Ray Sanchez, CNN … Muslim call to prayer to be broadcast in Minneapolis neighborhood, Jean Hopfensperger, Star Tribune … Amid coronavirus pandemic, Holocaust survivors at special risk — and getting extra help, Michele Chabin, Jewish Telegraphic Agency … U.S. church faces neglect allegations after Haiti child allegations, Michael Weissenstein and Ben Fox, AP … Under fire from many, Samaritan’s Purse finds an unlikely champion, Yonat Shimron, RNS … Washington Post gets inside the painful COVID-19 crisis in Church of God in Christ, Terry Mattingly, GetReligion.
Inside The Godbeat
Kate Shellnutt, senior news editor for Christianity Today, earned the first-place award for reporting in the Evangelical Press Association’s annual contest.
I’m proud to have won a first place prize in reporting from the Evangelical Press Association for my story on @Tish_H_Warren‘s Amazon counterfeit scandal. The piece came out last summer, and authors continue to report similar issues on a smaller scale. https://t.co/NPgz7upXxa
— kate shellnutt (@kateshellnutt) April 21, 2020
Shellnutt was honored for her story on a major counterfeiting scheme that targeted a Christian bestseller.
Congrats to Kate and all the other winners!
Charging station: In case you missed it
Recent news and opinions from Religion Unplugged.
- A butcher by name, this Muslim surgeon saves lives across battle lines (by Ken Chitwood)
- Wondering where God is during this pandemic? (by Terry Mattingly)
- How Billy Sunday traded his bat for a Bible and came to love New York (by Clemente Lisi)
- Caring for the least of these: One evangelical’s mission to promote ‘creation care’ (by Jillian Cheney)
- What’s more Christian: capitalism or socialism? (by Richard Ostling)
- ‘Zoo Rabbi’ opens museum featuring Biblical wildlife with virtual tours (by Gil Zohar)
- Growth in the LDS Church is slowing — but not for reasons you might suspect (by Emma Penrod)
- Prisoners of conscience freed due to COVID-19 (by Ewelina U. Ochab)
- There is a false dichotomy between theological and practical questions (by Michael Metzger)
- Social distancing tips from Christian church tradition (by Michael Metzger)
- COVID-19 widens the rift between Israel’s ultra-Orthodox and secular communities (by Gil Zohar)
- The COVID-19 ‘miracle’ drug maker is named after biblical balm (by Meagan Clark)
- Coronavirus is highlighting the rift in Islam (by Lawrence Pintak)
- Devil in detail: Italian exorcist describes his lifelong battle against demons and the occult (by Clemente Lisi)
The Final Plug
Since you made it this far in the column, I hope you’ll indulge a bit of personal privilege.
My son Keaton graduates today (virtually) with his journalism degree from Oklahoma Christian University.
— keaton__ross (@keaton__ross) April 23, 2020
I am so proud of him and thrilled about this next step in his journey.
(Bobby Ross Jr. is a columnist for Religion Unplugged and editor in chief of The Christian Chronicle. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)