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Around 50 people, mostly clergy members representing various Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities, gathered in Jackson on Tuesday for a memorial service dedicated to Mississippi residents who have died from COVID-19.
To date, COVID-19 has killed 10,129 Mississippians, giving the state the highest death rate in the nation. This is more Mississippians than were killed by cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and kidney disease combined in 2017. Mississippi has either the highest or second highest death rate in the nation for all these diseases.
The event was organized by Working Together Mississippi, an emerging statewide organization of various religious institutions and nonprofits. Several speakers said they are praying that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, and Mississippi is certainly in a much better position than it was a few months ago.
The state’s 7-day average for new cases has decreased by more than 87% since the all-time peak seen in mid-August. Still, Mississippi has one of the lowest vaccination rates in America, ranking 47th, though vaccines are free and widely available.
Ten reverends and bishops prayed over the crowd and reflected on the pain and loss caused by the pandemic.
“I bring you greetings of grace and peace. But I’m also here as a boy that misses his daddy,” said Rev. Hugh Hollowell, community pastor at Open Door Mennonite Church.
Hollowell then told the story of his father, also named Hugh Hollowell, who was the director of emergency management for Marshall County. In October 2020 he was delivering personal protective equipment (PPE) to first responders on a Thursday, and then was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Saturday. He died the following Tuesday.
The pain of it, in addition to the normal pain that comes with losing a loved one, Hollowell said, is that his father was supposed to retire in June, but decided doing so in the middle of a pandemic would be unethical.
“I know that that’s not a solitary story… we are collectively members of a horrible club that we didn’t ask to be part of,” Hollowell said.
A moment of silence for the dead was held as the sound of church bells filled the air at noon. That period of reflection was nearly overwhelming for Rev. Heath Ferguson, director of pastoral care and faith relations at Mississippi Baptist Health System.
Ferguson leaned in and tried to think of all those he’s ministered to over the past 19 months. The thousands of COVID rooms he’s walked into, the hundreds he ministered to at their bedside as they lay dying.
“They all came rushing in and it was a little too much,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson encouraged attendees to honor the memories of those lost by caring for their neighbors.
“Tend to the grieving, care for the caregivers, and make peace in this world. Let’s do that,” Ferguson said.