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Come together as Austin community to mourn what we have lost from COVID-19 in citywide memorial

By Stephen W. Kinney
Special to the American-Statesman
The Rev. Stephen W. Kinney is the assisting priest at All Saints’ Episcopal Church.

The daily recitation of COVID-19 statistics numbs me out. I try to compartmentalize these stats to carry on with my daily life, yet the facts are undeniable.

Since the pandemic began, there have been more than 2.3 million deaths in the world; 463,000 deaths in the United States; 40,000 deaths in Texas; 770 deaths in Travis County.

It is difficult to wrap my mind around these numbers. (Since last February, pandemic fatalities in the United States represent the casualties of four Vietnam wars.). 

Tellingly, tragically, people of color are disproportionately represented. So many of us in our community in and around Austin carry much grief and trauma in our bodies, though some of us carry or hide it better than others.

Yet we are all in this together, whether we like it or know it or not. We’re deeply interconnected, and as the Rev. Martin Luther King once put it from inside a Birmingham jail, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. What affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

While you might not be personally affected by COVID-19, chances are your neighbor or co-worker is.

Faith traditions across the spectrum testify with King that the ineffable God is the source of our intrinsic connectedness and that we are bound together in our common humanity. When we share our destiny and care for one another as God’s children, then we become an essential part of what King called the "Beloved Community."

“So if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it,” in the words of the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Whether you are on the front lines, critically caring for COVID-19 patients in the ICU, or grieving for a loved one whom you cannot visit in ICU; whether you are in a retirement center unable to hug your grandchildren, or a grandchild stuck in a virtual classroom without being able to play with friends; whether you are a small business owner who can no longer sustain your business, or someone who is feeling isolated and alone — wherever or whomever you are, we need the chance to share in the suffering of those afflicted or killed by COVID-19 and then share comfort and connection.

On Feb. 28 at 3 p.m., we’ll have that chance: a citywide virtual memorial service that includes dozens of faith leaders from diverse faith traditions and civic leaders from all over Central Texas. We’ll ring bells across the city to remember lost loved ones; we’ll light candles of hope from our homes; we’ll pray prayers for peace, healing and solidarity; and we’ll be together.

Interfaith Action of Central Texas is co-hosting this remembrance gathering with the City of Austin, Travis County, Community Advancement Network, the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center and Oakwood Cemetery Chapel and others. To register or learn more, please visit the iACT website (interfaithaustin.org). The service will be available on Zoom, YouTube and the Parks and Recreation Department's Facebook Page. More information can be found at http://www.austintexas.gov/department/emma-s-barrientosmexican-american-cultural-center.

The Rev. Stephen W. Kinney is the director of development at iACT and assisting priest at All Saints’ Episcopal Church. Doing Good Together is compiled by Interfaith Action of Central Texas.