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  • Hawai‘i Conference Office

Churches Remember Those Lost to COVID-19 on All Saints' Day

In the Christian tradition, All Saints’ Day is a time to remember those who have gone before us. Since the start of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, over 900 people in Hawai‘i have died from the coronavirus. Each day, new statistics provide a general idea of the situation, but those numbers can become impersonal.

For the second year in a row, those in our community who died with COVID-19 were remembered with a multitude of chairs and bell tolls, but after nearly 20 months since the start of the pandemic, many more hands and minutes were needed to portray the magnitude of loss

On November 1st, volunteers and pastors from various churches (Church of the Crossroads, Central Union Church, Kawaiaha‘o Church, Mānoa Valley Church, Makiki Christian Church, Nu‘uanu Congregational Church, and others) came together to create a space to remember those who have died from COVID-19 in our communities.

For each life lost, one chair was placed on the Great Lawn at Central Union Church in Honolulu. Dates corresponding with each death were placed on each chair. A little past noon, the spire carillon rang one time for each life lost to COVID-19 in Hawai‘i. This space was for loved ones and for those impacted by the virus, all of us, to remember and grieve—an audial and visual testimony to inspire us all to take extra care with one another. The display was open to the public from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on All Saints' Day.

916 empty chairs to represent the 916 lives lost to COVID-19 sit on the Great Lawn of Central Union Church.

Reflections from Clergy

The Rev. Mary Herbig began the midday service saying, “We have lost so many members of our community, each beloved by the divine. And so, we are gathered here today to remember them, to remember the difference they made in our lives and in the world. We are here to open ourselves and our hearts to the full range of emotions we have felt. Most of all, we are here to support one another, to hold one another up in this time, to be a community, loving one another through the grief.”

Faith leaders face 916 chairs and listen to 916 bell tolls ringing out from the carillon above.

"We centered ourselves as the carillon began to ring. Ringing the carillon for each life took over 45 minutes. Standing for every chime felt important and yet the midday sun did not make it easy. The Von Hamm room chairs were tempting, and I was second guessing my decision to wear the robe. As the carillon rang out, one word kept coming to my mind, 'endure.'

Endure this moment for it will not last forever. Let your endurance be your steady prayer. Endure as a testimony to the strength God has given you. Endure as an act of solidarity with those who are enduring loss, enduring grief, and enduring uncertainty. We all want to see COVID put behind us for good. COVID fatigue is real. But in our longing to “get back to normal” we must not rush the process. Be it intentionally or unintentionally, we do harm when we anxiously push past loss or when we tell the grieving to just “get over it.” Instead, we fix our eyes on Christ, we take single measured steps with hope, and when the hard days come, we endure.

We endure because this is what love does and, as the people of God, we are a people of love.

We endure because even as we looked out on the empty chairs, symbols of the extent of our shared loss, we cling to the conviction that we have not lost faith."

—Rev. Brandon Durán, The Spire, November 2021

Rev. Jeannie Thompson

When the ringing of the carillon concluded, the Rev. Jeannie Thompson, pastor at Nu‘uanu Congregational Church, closed the time saying, “On this very special day, when we have come together... We are here to come alongside you as you take this time to remember your loved one. If you would like, we will pray with you, or simply listen. Mostly what we want you to know is this: the loving Spirit that animates all life, sees you. And we see you.”

Volunteers walk up and down the rows of chairs, adding date markers to each one.

"Signs on chairs flowed like the waves of the pandemic that had swept across Hawai‘i.

With each tolling of the bell, a date: April 5, 2020 - gone. April 9, 2020 - gone. April 10, 2020 - gone. April 10, 2020, again - gone. And so it started... more than one a day. Gone.

Rev. Kyle Lovett stands vigil, beholding 916 chairs and bell tolls.

Loud cars, radios blaring, sped by on Beretania. Helicopters flew overhead. The tolling of the bells was drowned out by the sounds of the world. But the tolling went on. If you tuned your ears, you knew the tolling was there, even when the world intruded.

Everyone lost someone. Everyone was there to acknowledge our common humanity, our common loss.

Clergy gathered from across the Hawaiian islands: A Buddhist Bishop from Big Island. A Unity Minister from Diamond Head. A Disciples of Christ Interim Minister and a Shinto Priest, both from Wahiawa. Another Buddhist Bishop from another denomination, from the big white temple on the Pali. And more UCC and Disciples pastors from across O‘ahu.

Some walked slowly up and down the lines of chairs, every bell, another step. 916 chairs. 916 steps. 916 lives. Thousands of lives entwined in the 916.

Civil Beat and Star Advertiser - taking pictures, whispering interviews, reverent in the face of the enormity, helping the wider community see and hear and feel, through their reporting."

—Rev. Kyle Lovett, member of Central Union Church, O‘ahu Association Committee on Ministry, helped to coordinate interfaith clergy participation.

"I was struck by so many visuals throughout the day. The visual of the crews at 7am and 6pm pulling together from so many churches making quick and enjoyable work of a very large task. I was struck by the visual of walking the chairs like a labyrinth and passing by all of those dates and recognizing that they represented someone loved. I was struck by the many visuals of the different angles of all of those chairs. I was struck by the visual of our Buddhist friends holding the space for so long and lifting in prayer and meditation the multitude. I was struck as well by the audio of the bells tolling for 47 minutes—so much time in order to give just 3 seconds to life lived. Lastly, I was struck by a conversation I had with one person who’d come with a lei for her sister-in-law. When I asked her if it was meaningful to have the dates on the chairs she said it really helped her to center on her sister-in-law. I am glad we made that extra effort to make that happen."

—Rev. David Turner, Church of the Crossroads

Several UCC clergy present for the midday service.


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