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Diocese of S. Ohio

The Covid Memorial at the
Church of the Good Shepherd

(64 University Terrace, Athens, Ohio)

Covid Memorial in church yard

One of the archway towers An explanation (tour) on Interpreting the Memorial's Symbolism

The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd welcomes you to our COVID-19 Memorial created to remember the over one million Americans and over six million people worldwide who have died from the COVI D-19 virus. These losses have deeply impacted the lives of millions more of us, our institutions, churches, businesses, economy, schools, and families and this is a visual representation of those losses. Each archway represents 100,000 Americans who have died from the COVID-19 virus.

The broken pieces of glass suspended on the sides of the archways represent people who died. Notice they don’t touch, this is an intentional effort to show how most who died from COVID-19 died alone, without family or friends present. The pieces of glass are broken to show how the COVID-19 virus damaged relationships, businesses, schools, and many in-person connections. The edges of the glass are sharp, representing the pain of separation many people experienced in the early days of the pandemic.

The arches represent how even though we may have felt separated, we were all experiencing the pandemic together. The arches are colored gold to represent the Holy. Children’s art often uses the color gold to represent the Presence of God. While we may have felt distant and separate, God was with all of us, and through God’s Presence we are connected. The arches also represent how those we love and who have died are still connected to us through the love we have for each other and God’s overarching love for us all.

One of the archway towersThe mirror on the bottom of each archway reflects your image with the brokenness around you, giving you opportunity to recognize your loss. The broken mirrors remind us how the pandemic revealed what is broken in our society and in our lives.

The lights on top of each archway represent the eternal light that shines when there is no sun or moon, the light of God that touches all the broken pieces, revealing their beauty and the reminder nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even death.

The crystals hanging from each archway refract the light, shining it everywhere in scattered colors like the broken glass on the sides intended to represent how love and grief are one in the same and both go with us and reminds us to be gentle with each other as we all may be carrying grief.

Tree in middle of memorial Written on the wind chimes are the names of individuals who have died from COVID-19. When the wind blows their names are spoken like the tolling of a bell.

The tree in the middle of the memorial represents the life that goes on never forgetting it is surrounded by the memories and love of those who died. The tree also represents the hope that we will be inspired to care for the living among us by recognizing the beauty of all life, renew our collective responsibility to take care of each other and to work together to create a society that cares for all people, to make a new and better day.

We are grateful for those who contributed to making this memorial possible and the artist Michael Luelloff who envisioned and constructed it. For those we love and see no longer and the ways in which we feel those losses, we pray.

The Story Behind the Covid-19 Memorial at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Athens, Ohio

In the Beginning . . . In February of 2021 the number of deaths from the Covid-19 virus were rising rapidly across the country. In most places houses of worship were not meeting in person. As the solemn day of Ash Wednesday approached, the priest at Church of the Good Shepherd wanted to do something to mark the liturgical, theological, and personal importance of the day because we were not permitted to observe our usual distribution of Ashes to Go in front of the church and the traditional service in the evening.

Ash Wednesday is a day when we followers of Jesus acknowledge our mortality by confessing our sins and turning or returning to God. In the midst of a pandemic, the priest wondered if perhaps we needed a physical sign of our confession and repentance that highlighted our failure to care for each other. This is how the idea of erecting a structure to commemorate the (at the time) hundreds of thousands of Americans who were dying of the Covid-19 virus began.

Interpreting the Symbolism . . . Art can be a powerful form of communication and prayer. The symbolism for the memorial was carefully thought out, starting with broken pieces of stained glass to represent the families, institutions, and communities that were broken by the loss of lives. Each piece of stained glass is separate to represent the isolation we all went through during the early days of the pandemic, and how those who died from the Covid-19 virus did so alone, without family or friends. The golden archways represent the overarching love and presence of God, which although is not always perceived during a crisis, is nonetheless over us all and connecting us all. If you stand close enough to look into the mirror at the base of each archway you will see your reflection with the broken pieces of glass around you, representing how all of us were part of the pandemic in some way. The solar powered light over each archway is symbolic of the eternal light and the crystal hanging below the light refracts the light spreading it beyond the memorial to symbolize how the loss of lives reaches into the world.

Each archway represents 100,000 Americans who died from the Covid-19 pandemic. In the four weeks that we gave ourselves to make the memorial and install it on Ash Wednesday, the death toll rose so quickly we had to purchase more materials and make additional archways. This was a time when supplies were low. We were given generous donations of homemade stained glass but other materials like glue that would work to adhere glass to plastic were difficult to get. We did the best we could but found the glass we put on the sides of an archway had fallen off after the adhesive dried or when left outside. We were constantly making and remaking the archways in time to get them out for Ash Wednesday. Even after they were first installed, the pieces of glass fell off and we had to find other adhesives that could handle the cold, rain, snow, and sun.

Growth and Changes . . . We had 3 archways when we first installed the Covid-19 Memorial on Ash Wednesday, 2021, as there were a little over 300,000 Americans who died from the virus. At the time this number of deaths seemed too large to comprehend. By summertime the total had grown to over 500,000 and we added two more archways to our memorial. It was now too large to keep the Covid-19 Memorial in its original location next to the sidewalk in front of the church building. We moved it in front of our columbarium. The Columbarium is a concrete structure where we intern the cremains of individuals who have been cremated and wish for their ashes to be kept on our property. While this location made sense for a memorial, it was not easily seen or accessed from the sidewalk.

By November 2, 2021, 200,000 more Americans had died from Covid-19, and as we added two more archways to the memorial, we realized it was now too large to be kept in front of the columbarium. We also realized that we needed to take measures to make the memorial longer lasting, as the pandemic was not easing up. We refurbished the original archways to make them stronger in order to withstand the weather. We converted an unused a flower bed on the front yard of the church into a larger space that would allow for us to expand the Covid-19 Memorial and was more visible and accessible from the sidewalk.

We planted a tree in the middle of the memorial to symbolize the life that goes on nourished and surrounded by the love and memories of those who died. We also added windchimes and invited people to write the names of individuals they knew who died from Covid-19. The windchimes were added because Church of the Good Shepherd does not have a bell. It is a tradition of the church that when someone dies, the church bell is tolled the number of years the person lived. Without a church bell, the windchimes provide the sound of a tolling bell and the memory that resonates in our hearts and minds and community.

A Service of Blessing . . . November 2 is a special day for the Church Year when we remember all those who died; we call that day All Souls’ Day. On November 4, 2021, we had a worship service for All Souls making a special inclusion of everyone who had died from Covid-19 and we blessed the memorial, making it a more sacred fixture in the church yard.

After this installation, we noticed more people from the community stopping by to take a picture of the memorial, write a name on a wind chime, and spend some time in prayer. We realized there was no other memorial in our area commemorating those who died from the Covid-19 virus and having a place where anyone could come and pray, and rest was a need we are able to meet for our community.

By July 2022, the total number of Americans who had died from Covid-19 had grown to over 1 million and over 6 million people worldwide. In what has become a sad tradition, we added 3 more archways to the memorial. Despite our previous efforts to make it large enough to expand, the memorial was too large to fit the circle of archways around the tree. Once again, we expanded the space; this time by adding gravel to the ground and making a gravel patio where people can sit on wooden bench and chairs.

As the virus has mutated, created variants, and taken more lives, our memorial has had to change and adapt, just like all of us as we try to navigate our lives as best we can during the pandemic. Committing to create a memorial to those who died from Covid-19 has taught us about the value of making room for loss and grief in our church yard and in our lives.

Sometimes parts of the memorial break from tipping over in severe weather or when debris like tree branches fall on them. Some of the mirrors and crystals and sides of the archways are chipped, cracked, or are missing large chunks. We have not fixed them because as the memorial ages it does so in ways that represent how we feel. We have felt emotionally tossed around, cracked, and broken. Yet we continue as best we can to persevere in caring for each other and in living our faith. We are all a little “worse for wear” but we are still hanging in there together.

In Summary . . . What began as a visual confession of our failure to care for each other during the pandemic has transformed into the creation of a sacred space for grief, rest, and spiritual healing. There is beauty in the sadness of loss that does not diminish the loss; it reminds us grief is part of the experience of love, and nothing, not even death, we are assured through the scriptures, can separate us from the Love of God. The Covid-19 Memorial reminds us there is no “return to normal” for the millions of people who are living with the loss of a friend, family member, or colleague. Which means this memorial can also be a reminder that no matter where we are in any phase of the pandemic, we can strive to be kind to each other as we do not know the amount of grief or sorrow others carry.

Welcome . . . Everyone is welcome to visit our Covid-19 Memorial in person at 64 University Terrace, Athens, Ohio and spend a little time remembering, praying, and resting. We do not charge admission.

Thank You . . . This memorial would not exist if not for the generosity of parishioners and friends of Church of the Good Shepherd and the work of local artist Michael Luelloff. We are grateful for any and all forms of support and donations to keep up the care of the Covid-19 Memorial whether it is adding new archways or strengthening the existing archways or making other adaptations and expansions as needed. In addition to being a place to grieve the loss of the millions of people who died from Covid-19, this memorial is also a testimony of our care for our community.

Invitation to Contribute . . . If you would like to be part of our Covid-19 Memorial by donating you can give on our website by clicking the donate button on the homepage of chogs.org or you can send a check to Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, 64 University Terrace, Athens, OH 45701 and write “Covid Memorial” in the memo line. We are grateful to include you in remembering loved ones, friends, and family who died from the Covid-19 virus, and we pray for them and for all of us who remember them.

In May of 2023 the Memorial was modified to be longer lasting.

Covid Memorial in church yard May 2023

With the help of several parishioners, the Covid Memorial has received its final update. This reflects both the change in the pandemic, and its long lasting impact on some people’s lives.

As the pieces of the memorial were beginning to show signs of deterioration and wear, we were reminded it was never built to be permanent, but a visual sign of what we were going through together as a community, nation, and world. We had planned to take it down after OU’s spring semester. However, we learned the memorial has become deeply meaningful to members of the community. People continue to come from outside of Athens to see it. This should be a powerful reminder to those of us who did not suffer significant loss during the pandemic that others have suffered and continue to grieve.

Since the memorial continues to have meaning for our community, it was decided that it would be modified to better withstand the weather and other forces that might influence it.

The wooden bases and plastic panels from each archway were removed and then pounded the archways deep into the earth. This way they will not blow over in wind or if pushed. The pieces of broken glass were removed from the panels and placed in cement steppingstones. The symbolism of suffering alone remains, however now in a form that will not deteriorate like the plastic panels and glue that was holding the glass.

The steppingstones are beneath each archway, as if pieces of glass fell. They are still connected to an archway, only now it is as if we are committing them to a final resting place. Most steppingstones also have bits of broken mirror in them too, so that our reflections can still remind us of how we have been part of the pandemic.

The crystals have been strung on longer lasting line so they can continue to refract the light around us, reminding us those who have gone are still with us through our love.

The lights have been replaced with tougher LED solar powered lights that will still illuminate the memorial at night, representing hope.

Thank you all for your help creating beauty that hopefully will be around for many years to come bringing meaning to all who pass by.