Reflection on America’s Worst Pandemic

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America’s worst pandemic was not the Coronavirus of 2020. It was the influenza pandemic of 1918. According to the CDC, over 675,000 Americans died during the 1918 Flu. As of March 31st, there have been 2,860 American who have died of Covid-19.  Also, in 1918, America was still involved in WWI which took over 10 million lives in 4 years worldwide – while the 1918 Flu killed over 65 million lives in 18 months worldwide.

A little closer to home, I found an article in the “Influenza Encyclopedia” produced by the University of Michigan which gave us some insight into the 1918 Flu in Atlanta, GA.   Around October 1, 1918, over 1,900 cases of flu were reported in an Army camp south of Atlanta called Camp Gordon.  From the Army camp, the flu spread into the city of Atlanta.  By October 7th, there was such a serious outbreak that Fulton County officials closed all  “schools, libraries, theaters,  movie houses, dance halls, churches, and other places of public amusement.”  Violations of the closure law were met with $200 fines. Even funerals were limited to 15 minutes with only a few people allowed to attend.   The Southeastern Fair was in town and was allowed to stay open since it was in the “open air” – but fair goers were required to wear “gauze masks.”  These “social distancing” guidelines remained in place until October 26th when city officials decided the epidemic was over. However, the flu returned in 2 more waves – in January and again in March.

When  the pandemic was finally over,  the Atlanta Board of Health reported over 20,000 cases and  829 deaths out of the 200,000 people who were living there in 1918 (5 million today). The CDC believes that many more died of the flu – but in those days many Doctors reported the cause of death as pneumonia.  

I read in an archive of “The Living Church”, a periodical of the Anglican Church, concerning how the churches were dealing with being closed. One example from Wisconsin reads as follows: “prayer for the cessation of the plague may well be offered… 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.”

We are truly blessed in the times that we are living in to have the electronic technology that was not available to people 100 years ago.  Watching and hearing songs and sermons at home while the churches are closed may not be ideal –still our conditions are better than 1918.  And while we may not be able to meet in person – we can still do what they did in 1918  – privately engage in prayer at home at the same hours.

And so – tonight at 6:30 – I encourage you to engage in prayer for our families, our church, our state, our nation, and our world which is in chaos over our current pandemic.  I encourage you to pray over:

Psalm 38 – A Psalm of David – A Prayer for Sickness & Suffering

 -In verses 1-10 – we see the description of sickness, pain, and suffering

 -In verse 11 – we see “Social Distancing”  – “My loved ones and my friends stand aloof from my plague, and my relatives stand afar off.”

-In verse 15 – we see a Prayer of confidence, hope, and trust in the LORD

-In verse 18ff – we see confession & repentance

-In verse 21 – we see a plea for the LORD to Heal, to Help, to Forgive, to Restore our Relationship with Him.

Former President Harry Truman is quoted as saying  “The only thing new in this world is the history you haven’t read.”  As we have just read from history – from the Old Testament 3000 years ago and from American history 100 years ago – we are not the first generation to face hard times.  Let’s continue to keep the Faith – to believe, trust, and obey the LORD – and He will see us through.