Cal Zunt photos
On a recent blustery Saturday afternoon, a small, white flag went into the ground at Church of the Redeemer UCC in Westlake, Ohio. Then another. And another. By the end of the day, more than 1,200 flags dotted the front lawn of the church, each one honoring an Ohioan who has died from COVID-19.
“We decided to create this memorial as a way for us to demonstrate our love and concern for people outside of our congregation,” said the Rev. R. Brooke Baker, senior minister. “This public witness says that no matter who you are, you matter to us, and you matter to God.”
The memorial, which will stand for several months, is a visual expression of Christian love that not only honors those who’ve died, but shows support for the families, friends and communities affected, Baker said. Additional white flags will be added to the memorial as more Ohioans are lost to the virus.
Although Redeemer UCC is luckier than some congregations — no church members have lost their lives to the pandemic — several members have lost friends. For Mary Kanzeg, a long-time member who chairs the building and grounds team, the fact that each flag represents a life is especially poignant. “One of those flags is for my friend who died,” she said.
Cal Zunt photos
The memorial includes signage reading, “Remembering Ohio COVID-19 Victims,” so that passersby will understand its significance and know the comfort and presence of God’s love, said Baker. But the memorial has even more significance, both to the congregation and the wider community.
“The memorial draws attention not only to the church, but to the fact that we care about all of God’s children. We care about all Ohio families who have had a loved one die,” Baker said. “Our faith tells us that we are promised eternal life: the white flags represent that.”
Church member Maggie Stahl — who with her husband Rick Garcia and daughter Rowan helped put the flags up — reflected on the scope of tragic loss of life. “Each flag we put in front of our church doesn’t only represent a death, a life lost,” she said. “It also represents a beautiful life lived.”
Redeemer UCC has found several ways to continue ministry during the pandemic, including a robust Facebook page and YouTube channel. A monthly community meal run by Redeemer and nearby Clague Road UCC has adjusted to serve the community via drive-by meal pick up, and weekly worship, Bible study, and youth meetings continue online. But the memorial and its clear message are particularly important for the congregation, Baker said.
“Like many Protestant local churches, Church of the Redeemer UCC has experienced a lot of change in the last few years. It becomes easy to think about the things we cannot do anymore,” she added. “This public witness serves not only as a reminder to the community that there is a worshiping church at this location; it also reminds the congregation that we are called to care for the community and are still capable of doing that.
“Each white flag represents a sign of hope — hope for eternal life, and hope that there is still work to be done by our congregation to share the Good News.