"Cover every cough and sneeze, if we don't we'll spread disease."

-The Witness
February 2, 1919

The severe impact of the 1918 influenza was little recognized in formal commentary but widely felt across the church. It undoubtably played a part in the unusual but unexplored decline in members across 47 of 72 domestic dioceses. The Church Annual observed in its lead editorial a remarkable loss in the church’s numbers, income, and evangelism work, which were “much less than normal...for the first time at least in our generation.” Discussion of the condition and concerns of the Church at this time was, however, narrowly focused on the national war effort.

The onset of American involvement in the European theater of World War I in March 1918 coincided with the earliest outbreak of the epidemic. The impact of the illness was especially devastating to the very age group that was gathered in ships, camps, and other close quarters as they prepared to go off to war. The earliest cases in the spring were followed by a much more virulent wave in the fall of 1918. A contemporary article reported that the General Convention’s War Commission observed in mid-October that chaplains were responding to the needs of servicemen from whom “letters are coming in daily revealing the heroic work the clergy are doing in the midst of the wide spread epidemic.”

As was customary in the Church’s governance at the time, Episcopal leadership was wholly centered in the dioceses and parishes that took action and formed ecumenical networks to serve others as local circumstances allowed. This included converting parish buildings to hospitals and isolation wards, developing canteens to prepare food for health care providers, delivering food to the homes of people stricken with the flu, helping stricken farmers with harvest, and opening their doors to care for children whose parents were sick or deceased.

Saint James' [Pullman] as an emergency hospital during the 1918 influenza epidemic.

In addition to caring for members of their own congregations, members of the clergy assisted with recovery efforts through community engagement, usually with local Red Cross initiatives or by participating in ecumenical efforts. Protestant prayer efforts were conducted on behalf of the sick, and worship in the home was encouraged on “churchless Sundays” when buildings were closed by choice or local health authorities. Some clergy developed and circulated materials for home worship while others experimented with open air or limited-attendance gatherings. It is also true, however, that resistence was strong to the cancellation of corporate worship. Some clergy risked arrest and others defending the application of science over thoughtless exposure.

The War Commission, which had only recently been created, found itself responding to a more immediate crisis as the epidemic spread through the armed forces. The Commission circulated a letter to the civilian Episcopal chaplains inviting them to call upon the War Commission “for such assistance as you may need” in providing for the comfort of sick soldiers: “The War Commission stands ready to support you in this service to their needs.” In addition to the War Commission, the Brotherhood of St. Andrew lent the support of its network across the Church for the care of stricken soldiers.

Below are some gleanings from church press, arranged by state, that speak to the local church's response to the pandemic.

 

Alaska

“A Great Mail,” a report from the Rev. John W. Chapman describes how the Anvik Mission in Alaska weathered the quarantine designed to prevent spread of influenza (The Spirit of Missions, July, 1919, p. 451-452)

 

Arkansas

The rector of St. Paul’s Church, Batesville, Arkansas, begins daily noonday prayers for the sick and for soldiers (The Churchman, November 2, 1918, p. 518)

 

California

“The Church and the Health Board, the rector of Emmanuel Church in Grass Valley, CA reports being arrested for keeping his church open (The Churchman, December 28, 1918, p. 784)

The Bishop of Sacramento’s lament for closed services and the need to open the buildings for frequent Eucharists and corporate worship. (The Living Church, November 16, 1918, p. 97)

 

Colorado

The Bishop of Western Colorado urges clergy to adopt intinction for communion (The Churchman, November 30, 1918, p. 645)

“Epidemic Meditations” were mailed to homes in the Missions at Olathe and Monroe Missionary District of Western Colorado for use in home worship (The Witness, January 11, 1919, p. 7)

 

Connecticut

The Province of New England synod meeting in New Haven, Connecticut postponed (The Churchman, October 19, 1919, p. 450)

 

District of Columbia

Washington Churches Have Been Ordered Closed” (The Churchman, October 12, 1918, p. 418)

Ministers protest the closing of churches in Washington (The Churchman, October 19, 1918, p. 450)

Churches open again in Washington (The Churchman, November 16, 1918, p. 384)

Open-Air Services in District of Columbia churches receive word from General Pershing: and Washington [DC] Pastors’ Federation Resolves That Churches Remain Open (The Living Church, October 19, 1918, pp. 833-834)

 

Georgia

“Christmas in a Cotton Mill Town,” LaGrange, Georgia, following the epidemic (The Spirit of Missions, December, 1919, p. 829)

 

Illinois

“Our Chaplains in the Epidemic,” chaplains’ experiences in the epidemic, Great Lakes Naval Training Station (The Churchman, October 12, 1918, p. 407)

“Futile to Commend Church Attendance as a Duty,” Springfield, IL pastoral letter (The Witness, November 9, 1918, p. 1)

Bishop Sumner of Chicago reflects on the thin spread of religion from the “distractions” of the world war, and the second coming of the influenza plague. (The Living Church, December 28, 1918, p. 300)

 

Indiana

Rector at Laporte, IN Protests Against the Acts of Civil Authorities (The Witness, December 14, 1918, p. 7)

 

Kentucky

Louisville Services Ban Viewed with Hope. (The Living Church, October 26, 1918, p. 866)

 

Louisiana

New Orleans’ priest Continues in Prayer As Sole Occupant of Trinity Church. (The Living Church, October 26, 1918, p. 866)

 

Kansas

Sisters at St. Barnabas’ Hospital in Salina, Kansas nursed soldiers and local African American residents (The Churchman, November 30, 1918, p. 647)

“Current Events in the American Church,” a Kansas priest held daily Communion during the epidemic with two persons at each service and three services on All Saints’ day with six persons at each service (The Witness, November 16, 1918, p. 5)

 

Maryland

Baltimore, diocesan convention postponed, (The Churchman, October 26, 1918, p. 488)

Baltimore Churches are Closed for First Time, (The Churchman, October 19, 1918, p. 449)

Diocese of Easton reports all churches closed (The Churchman, October 26, 1918, p. 488)

Camp Meade, Maryland was the site of an active chaplaincy team that cared for and ministered to sick young soldiers (The Living Church, November 23, 1918, p. 114)

 

Massachusetts

Boston Churches Aiding Influenza Sufferers,” (The Churchman, October 12, 1918, p. 418)

Grace Church, New Bedford, parish house becomes an isolation hospital, aided by the pre-planning efforts of its disaster committee (The Churchman, October 12, 1918, p. 418)

Grace House, New Bedford, is transformed into an isolation hospital (The Churchman, November 2, 1918, p. 518)

Christ Church, Boston establishes an emergency canteen for providing food through district nurses (The Churchman, October 12, 1918, p. 418)

Church of the Ascension’s Emmanuel House, a chapel of Emmanuel Church in Boston, provides temporary shelter for children made homeless by the epidemic (The Churchman, November 2, 1918, p.518)

Trinity Neighborhood House in East Boston spearheads an emergency canteen that feeds physicians and nurses and sends food to the sick (The Churchman, November 2, 1918, p. 518)

Churchless Sunday in Boston, an unprecedented experience (The Churchman, October 19, 1918, p. 455)

“Administering the Holy Communion by Intinction,” instructions of Bishop Lawrence of Massachusetts, (The Witness, November 2, 1918, p. 5)

Numerous Influenza Deaths Close Massachusetts Churches. (The Living Church, October 5, 1918, p. 761)

Massachusetts Bishop L. Urges Intinction as Public Worship Ceases. (The Living Church, October 12, 1918, pp. 794-795)

Boston’s Church of the Advent Rector Ponders Epidemic Responsibility. (The Living Church, November 2, 1918, p. 21)

 

Michigan

In the Diocese of Marquette (Michigan), communicants attend service by threes (The Churchman, December 29, 1918, p. 776)

Chaplain Ziegler writes in detail of the sudden onslaught of a plague and pestilence at Camp Custer, Battle Creek, MI (The Living Church, November 16, 1918, p. 75)

 

Missouri

St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City (Diocese of West Missouri) continues service beyond its normal capacity despite illness of nurses and superintendent (The Churchman, November 23, 1918, p. 615)

Diocese of Missouri bishop co-adjutor’s letter on church closures (The Churchman, November 9, 1918, p. 553)

The Diocese urges home worship (The Churchman, November 9, 1918, p. 553)

 

Montana

Montana clergy assisted with the sick through Red Cross work when the churches were closed (The Churchman, November 30, 1918, p. 645)

 

New Mexico

A report from the San Juan mission at Farmington, New Mexico, comments in the language of the time on the influenza as experienced by the mission (The Spirit of Missions, June, 1919, p. 403)

 

New York

The rector of the church in Seneca Falls in Central New York was made chairman of the town’s entire special relief effort and the parish house at Fulton was used as a hospital (The Churchman, November 30, 1918, p. 646)

Woman’s Auxiliary meeting postponed, Buffalo, New York (The Churchman, November 9, 1918, p. 548)

Thought of using incense as a cure for influenza? Advice on spiritual and physical cures from Richmond Hill, Long Island (The Living Church, November 16, 1918, p. 85)

Influenza Postpones Western New York Coadjutor Election. (The Living Church, October 26, 1918, p. 871)

 

North Carolina

Archdeacon Delany’s consecration in Raleigh is rescheduled after previously being postponed due to influenza (The Churchman, November 16, 1918, p. 579)

“An Unfounded Statement Causes Injustice,” regarding a rumor in North Carolina that a priest refused to visit a sick nurse (The Churchman, November 23, 1918, p. 616)

Consecration of the Rev. H. B. Delany in North Carolina postponed due to the influenza epidemic, and also the meeting of the Conference of Church Workers among Colored People (The Witness, November 2, 1918, p. 1)

“A Message From the Mountains,” excerpts from letter by a missionary in Glendale Springs, in the Asheville district, on her care of influenza patients (The Spirit of Missions, May, 1919, p. 346)

The diocesan bishop reports on Practical Christianity at Rock Ridge, North Carolina where a whole school turns out to aid the farming families incapacitated by the influenza (The Living Church, November 30, 1918, p. 163)

 

Ohio

Congressman Bowdle of Cincinnati on church closings (The Witness, November 30, 1918, p. 4)

While churches are closed but saloons are open in Cincinnati, the diocese recommends family altars counseling readers that “the head of each house is the priest of his household” (The Living Church, November 9, 1918, p. 61)

 

Pennsylvania

Diocese of Pennsylvania facilitates care in Philadelphia for children whose parents are ill at the Inasmuch Mission and St. Simeon’s Church parish house, (The Churchman, October 26, 1918, p. 489)

St. Simeon’s Church in Philadelphia serves as orphan hospital under the Sisters of St. Margaret and students from the Church Training and Deaconess House assist at hospitals (The Witness, November 9, 1918, p. 5)

Several parishes in the Diocese of Erie were active in social service: the parish house of Christ Church in Oil City deployed as an emergency hospital; the dean of the Cathedral, who had started a canteen service, was appointed to take charge of the ecumenical canteen effort for the whole city of Erie; and the rector, who was also a physician, of Emanuel Church, Emporium left parochial service temporarily to treat the sick (The Churchman, November 30, 1918, p. 647)

Students in the Church Training and Deaconess House in Philadelphia are released from studies to help relieve a dearth of nurses (The Churchman, October 19, 1918, p. 438)

“All Churches are Closed in City of Philadelphia,” (The Churchman, October 19, 1918, p. 451)

Letter to the editor regarding church closings in Philadelphia (The Churchman, October 26, 1918, p. 494)

In Scranton, PA, the rector of St. Mark’s invited the Protestant clergy into the church to unite in prayer for the sick on a Sunday when all the churches were closed (The Churchman, October 19, 1918, p. 453)

Philadelphia churches open “illegally,” (The Churchman, November 2, 1918, p. 514)

A slow retreat of the epidemic as “flare-ups” cause a stricter quarantine in Erie (The Living Church, December 7, 1918, p. 200)

Epidemic Influenza Shutters Philadelphia Churches, Schools, and Public Amusement. (The Living Church, October 12, 1918, p. 795)

Laypersons’ Editorials Oppose Philadelphia Church Closings. (The Living Church, October 19, 1918)

Philadelphia Clergy Protest Church Closings As One of Their Own Is Mourned. (The Living Church, October 26, 1918, p. 861)

St. Andrew’s Church in State College, PA Makes the Case for Protest. (The Living Church, November 2, 1918, p. 15)

 

Texas

Consecration of Coadjutor-elect Quinn of the Diocese of Texas postponed (The Witness, November 2, 1918, p. 5)

 

Vermont

The parish house at St. Paul’s, Burlington, VT, is used as a temporary hospital for students at the Mechanical School of the University of Vermont (The Churchman, October 26, 1918, p. 481)

Vermont Churches Find Epidemic Use As Military Convalescent Homes. (The Living Church, October 26, 1918, p. 871)

 

Virginia

Richmond rectors volunteer at the emergency hospital (The Churchman, November 2, 1918, p. 518)

St. Philip’s, Richmond, is the first African American church there to start a soup kitchen service for hungry residents (The Churchman, November 2, 1918, p. 518)

Rector of Christ Church, Pulaski, Virginia heads a committee that conducted a community soup kitchen making 30 to 40 gallons of broth daily (The Witness, November 2, 1918, p. 5)

 

Washington

Pullman, WA church becomes a hospital (The Churchman, December 28, 1918, p. 776)

“When the terrible epidemic of influenza reached Pullman, 600 of the students were stricken down at once,” reported in “Spokane and the Inland Empire” from the Missionary District of Spokane (The Spirit of Missions, February, 1919, p. 88)

Photograph, “Saint James’s, Pullman, as an emergency hospital in the recent influenza epidemic,” (The Spirit of Missions, February, 1919, p. 90)

Diocese of Spokane parishes convert parish buildings into hospitals at Pullman and North Yakima (The Churchman, November 9, 1918, p. 550)

 

Wyoming

The rector of St. Paul’s Church in Evanston, WY is appointed chairman of the influenza committee and assists at the Union Pacific Railroad roundhouse and district foreman’s office due to scarcity of men (The Churchman, November 2, 1918, p. 518)

 

General Articles on Worship and Community Life

Chaplains supported by the Church’s War Commission in camp epidemic work (The Churchman, October 12, 1918, p. 422)

Brotherhood of St. Andrew secretaries assist soldiers (The Churchman, December 28, 1918, p. 776)

Wants Churches Kept Open,” letter to the editor from influential architect Ralph Adams Cram (The Churchman, October 19, 1918, p. 461)

“The ‘Flu’ Epidemic and Churchless Sundays: Christians Must Take Such Action as Will Put the Church More Definitely on the Map” (The Witness, November 30, 1918, pp. 1, 7)

Look Upon Zion,” editorial on church closings (The Witness, November 2, 1918, p. 2)

Chalice
Chalice

The Common Cup,” an article on intinction, which some churches adopted during the epidemic (The Churchman, November 2, 1918, pp. 506-507)

The Chalice,” brief comments on the practice of intinction (The Churchman, December 14, 1918, p. 695)

The Administration of the Chalice,” (The Churchman, December 14, 1918, pp. 699-700)

A New Chalice,” letter to the editor describing a proposed new, safer, chalice (The Churchman, November 23, 1918, p. 618)

A Possible Solution,” letter to the editor on methods of administering communion (The Churchman, November 23, 1918, pp. 619, 621)

Intinction,” letter to the editor (The Churchman, December 28, 1918, pp. 784-785)

Intinction or Extinction,” letter to the editor (The Churchman, November 16, 1918, pp. 587-588)

Does the communion cup pose danger of contagion? (The Witness, December 7, 1918, pp. 1, 7)

New Method of Administering the Blessed Sacrament by Intinction” (The Witness, December 7, 1918, p. 6)

Woman’s Auxiliary cancelled several of its thirteen planned institutes due to the epidemic (The Spirit of Missions, March, 1919, p. 203)

Province of Washington synod meeting postponed (The Churchman, October 26, 1918, p. 480)

“Help Wanted! at the Church General Hospital, Wuchang” physician treated patients after her own illnesses of influenza and malaria (The Spirit of Missions, July, 1919, p. 489)

The flavor of Prohibition comes with the warning about the ill effects of alcohol prescriptions for treating influenza (The Living Church, February 8, p. 487)

Interest in Canada’s Anglican Church was covered in the American church press: “the city [Montreal] is troubled through fear of death” (The Living Church November 23, 1918, p. 132)

A New York lay woman in New York offers that science should prevail over corporate worship, but perhaps incense isn’t such a far-fetched curative? (The Living Church, November 30, 1918, p. 150)

Montreal Cancels Weekday and Sunday School Services Ahead of Public Order, Early Sunday Celebrations Hour Fixed. (The Living Church, October 19, p. 834)

Good Shepherd Rosemont’s Priest Declares Corporate Worship Essential. (The Living Church November 2, 1918, p. 15)