At the conclusion of worship last Sunday, I was asked if I would be willing to share my sermon with the broader membership of the parish. In light of the importance of this stewardship season and the future of this parish, I am doing so now as a spiritual reflection. I hope that these words bring to you calm and hope, resolve and commitment.
It may seem odd, but I begin this season of securing the financial health of the parish in 2021 and beyond with a story, a history lesson. It is a story about uncertainty, challenge, restrictions, hardship; it is a story about health and illness, and it is a story about life and death. And I offer up this history lesson so that we might start this season with a sense of calm, a sense of acceptance, a sense of faith and endurance and perseverance, a sense of finding a way to thrive in difficult times.
I have heard it said that we are in unique and unprecedented times on these islands. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, even though we don't know the future of the Corona virus, we have been here before. In June, 1918, a strange respiratory illness arrived in Hawaii, known initially as "la grippe;" it later became known as the Spanish Flu. It arrived here from the rest of the world primarily through the arrival of military personnel in the wake of WWI. And it arrived at a time of significant unsettledness, not only the World War but Hawaii was in the midst of an economic crises largely brought on by striking sugar plantation workers. Once here, the disease spread quickly. In just one month, by July, there were over 1,200 military and civilian cases. However, the media and health care organizations initially downplayed the disease, largely a function of censorship regulations in place because of the war in an effort to avoid America or the military looking weak. But word soon got out and eventually health care organizations recognized it as a priority.
Doctors quickly realized that there was no medical cure for this respiratory illness. Of course, there was no vaccine. As the disease spread, health care officials learned that the only effective measures against the spread were social distancing, hand washing and eventually masks. One doctor emphasized the importance of luck. Interesting trends began to emerge. The young and the elderly were the most susceptible. By race, the mortality rate was highest among native Hawaiians and Filipinos. By county, as it relates to cases and deaths, Kauai fared the worst. Two waves of the virus hit the islands and by January, 1919, health care facilities were overcrowded. Queen's Hospital was transformed into a general hospital for only virus cases. Other hospitals throughout the islands erected tents to house patients. Businesses began to fail and a suffering economy grew worse. Theaters and schools shut down. Indoor public gatherings including church services were prohibited by the territorial government. Unlike the mainland where the death rate peaked in late 1918, the death rate peaked in Hawaii in 1920. It was not until late 1920 when the virus began to leave the islands. It was not until a year later that any sense of normal returned. In the end, 2,300 Hawaiian deaths were recorded, although the actual number is far greater because this figure did not include military deaths, and civilian deaths were vastly under-reported. Overall, it is estimated that 1% of the world's population, or approximately 70 million people, died as a result of the Spanish Flu.
Why share this history lesson and why now? Again, we don't know the outcome of Corona here on the islands or in the rest of the world, but we have been here before. Back in 1918, the Episcopal Church was a newcomer, a relative baby on the islands, fresh in the relatively recent vision of King Kamehameha VI and Queen Emma for the church to be the presence of Christ's love for Hawaiians and all who live on the islands. Those early churches certainly did not have the resources that we have now, and yet, their faith, their endurance and perseverance, saw them through. Churches suffered, economically and otherwise, but what records we have indicate that not one church was lost, not one congregation left behind. Through sheer will and determination they made it through, because they realized what was at stake. We gather here this morning at St. Michael and All Angels because of that faith, because of that will, endurance and perseverance. And we begin our season of stewardship in similar challenging and unsettling times, knowing that Kamehameha and Emma's vision is at stake. Christ's love and care for all is at stake. Who we are and who we are called to be is at stake. May we follow the royal vision, may we follow the light of Christ and all those who came before us, so that when all this has past, future generations may look to us for their own light and inspiration. They will look back and say, "We are still here. We are still here because of the love of those who came before us." May it be so. Amen.
Love and Peace,