By Kathryn Aubry-McAvoy
View the worship and sermon here.
During this time of Pandemic, we pray in our weekly litany “for those who are ill and those who are frightened, for medical personnel caring for the sick and workers who provide support to us everyday in their communities, for scientists seeking treatments and prevention, and for those officials who bear the weight of decision-making for the common good.” If we look back in history we see many examples of similar heroic service, those who followed Jesus’ call on the beach that night, to heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and raise up the dead.
Today I’d like to draw your attention to the Martyrs of Memphis. In August of 1878, yellow fever invaded the city of Memphis Tennessee for the 3rd time in 10 years. This was a time in the practice of medicine when germ theory was still a controversial idea. It would be another 25 years before it was discovered that a mosquito carried the disease. Living conditions and working conditions in large industrial cities were typically dirty, overpopulated and unsanitary, forcing residents to battle life-threatening diseases.
After a month, quarantine was ordered. 30,000 people had fled in terror, and 20,000 remained to face the pestilence.
Jeannette Keith has written a fascinating book about this time in history called “Fever Season, The Story of a Terrifying Epidemic and the People who saved a City.”
As Keith wryly points out, these saviors weren’t exactly who you might expect. …“Neither heroism nor villainy could be predicted by public standing, gender or race. Upstanding citizens abandoned their families, and prostitutes and sporting men stepped up to care for the sick. White elected officials deserted their posts, but black militiamen stood fast as guardians of the city.”
The cast of characters who rose to the crisis were an unexpected crew united by a single impulse: like Jesus feeding all those folks on the beach that night, they could not turn a deaf ear to those in need. Among them were the editor of the city paper, the Memphis Daily Appeal; a nurse and teacher who had already lost most of her family in Texas to the disease as a child; a wealthy merchant and veteran of the Union Calvary, who “risked his life to help people he had fought against only a few years previously”; the only white Baptist minister to remain in the city; a madam who transformed her bordello into an infirmary; and, in the aftermath of the epidemic, a former slave who became the richest African America in Memphis and would lay the foundations for Memphis’ reputation as the home of the blues. His name was Robert Church. Also notable among them, was Constance, Superior to the Sisters of St Mary, six of her fellow sisters, three physicians, two of whom were Episcopal priests, two matrons and several volunteer nurses from New York.
In the Episcopal Church we dedicate September 9th to Constance and her Companions. The Cathedral buildings were located in the most infected region of Memphis. Here, these men and women gave relief to the sick, comfort to the dying, and homes to the many orphaned children. Only two of these workers escaped the fever. Among those who died were Constance, Thecla, Ruth and Frances, the Reverend Charles Parsons and the Reverend Louis Schuyler.
Let us pray:
“We give you thanks and praise, O God of Compassion, for the heroic witness of Constance and her companions, who, in a time of plague and pestilence, were steadfast in their care for the sick and dying, and loved not their own lives, even unto death: Inspire in us a like love and commitment to those in need, following the example of our Savior Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, then, now and forever. Amen"
Excerpt from Holy Women, Holy Men
“Fever Season: The Story of a terrifying Epidemic and the People who Saved a City"
Meet our Preachers
Coffee with Clergy
Do you want to get together to talk about your spiritual life or learn more about our community? Contact us and we will find time to get together.