May 21, 2020
Calvary’s COVID-19/Coronavirus Response
Dear Calvary Family,
On this Memorial Day weekend, I am reminded of the story I learned from one of our own beloved Calvary veterans, Nelson Cox (1921-2019). Nelson was a U.S. Army Lieutenant; he served in World War II in Italy, Germany, and France as a combat platoon leader. At the beginning of his service all the army divisions were fully manned so Nelson was placed in a pool of replacements for casualties of equal rank and sent to Europe where he was assigned to a replacement depot. He then went to Rome for airborne training as a CG-4A glider soldier (not as a pilot he would clarify), but just as he was finishing his airborne training, the Italian campaign was slowing and the war in France was gearing up. So he was sent back to the replacement depot in France and was soon assigned to a ground combat unit already in action to replace the second lieutenant who had died in battle. After meeting the company commander at 5:00 a.m., he said to Nelson, “Lieutenant, your platoon is up there on that hill, go up and take over.”
Nelson said it was not the best way for an inexperienced officer to take command of a group that had been together since the division was formed. But he did it. Nelson wrote about his memories in battle; they paint a picture of what he endured:
- On his first day on the field, he was behind a building just starting to feel safe when the Germans fired 9 mortar shells on his unit, killing three men.
- Every thirty days the portable showers were brought in; they were in a tent heated by oil stoves so the inside canvas walls had a coating of oil smoke on them and Nelson said if you bumped the wall, you had to start all over again. As they entered the shower they’d throw out all their clothes and as they left they got a whole new set of clothes.
- He often carried schnapps or wine in his canteen instead of water; they had cold stew for breakfast, and their rations included 4 cigarettes which they carried in their helmets.
- The winter of 1944-45 was especially hard. They lived in houses, cellars, drainage ditches, foxholes, and in the ground. They were too hot during the day and too cold at night. Nelson got pneumonia and was evacuated to a field hospital. By the time he recovered the war was over.
- He became a member of the informal “Century Club” as they called it, which was for men who were on the frontline for 100 consecutive days.
Nelson, as a young man, was thrown into a leadership position unexpectedly and placed on the front lines of battle. What he knew of life - his routine and the comforts of food, showers, clothes, home, loved ones - was forever changed in an instant. Death swirled around him. He describes the physical pain and discomfort they endured (especially their feet being wet and cold for days on end) and his fellow soldiers being shot to death just feet away from him. After the war was over, and Nelson returned home, he would go on to enjoy the finer things in life - nice suits, bow ties, shined shoes, live jazz music, groomed golf courses, crab cakes, steak, manhattans, and jaguars. But the experience of serving on the front lines in war had changed him. You can’t endure something like that and not have it change your perspective on life - forever.
Memorial Day reminds us that some soldiers come home from war and some do not; some get a second chance to start over again, while others fall on the battlefield dreaming of how life might someday have been different for them. We call the men who served in World War II heroes, and for good reason. War World II changed our world, and our country, forever. Lessons have been learned and lost; sometimes history has sadly been repeated, and wars still rage on. But the opportunity to listen and learn from history and to change our behavior and rethink our values is ever-present.
As we continue to live through this global coronavirus pandemic and anticipate reaching 100,000 deaths in the United States in the next few days, I keep thinking about how many lives have been lost and the millions of friends and family members grieving those losses. I continually reflect on how much life has changed for us, of what we are enduring and how much we took for granted, of the sacrifices frontline workers are making, and the effects this is having on our mental health, physical health, economic health, and spiritual health. Some are suffering more than others. This pandemic has exposed, even more deeply, the chronic diseases and disparities in our national social fabric - issues of access to health care, differing views of respect and value of life for senior adults/elders, silence around mental health, disagreements in how we view scientific data and medical experts, gaps in spiritual grounding and ethical guidance, and inequities and injustices experienced by people of color, immigrants, refugees, and indigenous communities (just to name a few). In a very real way (much like a war), COVID-19 has forced us to confront how we value a human life and how we value our American way of life.
I wonder what we will learn and how we will come out of this time changed. Just as it was after World War II, the world will be forever changed on the other side of this pandemic. Life will be different; will we be different? Will we allow ourselves to be changed, for the good, from this situation? Just as Nelson’s company commander said to him, “Lieutenant, your platoon is up there on that hill, go up and take over,” we, too, have been thrown into this situation and must find a way - not only to survive but God-willing, to thrive. To come through this stronger, more grateful, and more aware of our need to ensure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people in our country.
When everything is taken away, we see what really matters. Think about that shower that Nelson said the soldiers got once every 30 days. They didn’t even try to wash their uniform; they just discarded it and got a brand new one because the old one was too soiled and damaged by blood, sweat, and tears. As this pandemic stretches on, I find myself not only asking how I will be different and how we will be different “at the end of it all,” but perhaps more importantly, “how am I continually transforming and adapting during this time?” Maybe every 30 days is a good benchmark to stop and take stock of what we are wearing and what we are doing and say, “okay, what do I leave behind, and what I do take forward?” Call this pandemic what you will, but we have this rare moment in our lives, and in the life of our nation, to dream of the kind of world we want to live in when this is all over, and even what kind of world we want to create even now - in the midst of this tragedy, which is simultaneously an opportunity.
I know we are all eager for answers to questions like “When will this be over?” and “When can we gather again?” I am too. But knowing that those answers are not immediately available, join me in praying for our world, our country, our church, and ourselves as we seek to live through this time as faithfully and gratefully as possible. As we learn more about how the Safer at Home phase has gone for Colorado over the last couple of weeks, we’ll be making an announcement next week as to how Calvary will be proceeding in the summer months. I appreciate your patience with us in this process as we seek to make the best decisions possible for our church members and for the greater-Denver community. We know already that we will be continuing to worship virtually for the foreseeable future, as gatherings continue to prove to hold the greatest risk of COVID-19 transmission.
On this Memorial Day weekend, may we especially be mindful of the care and prayer that our veterans and their families need. Take care of one another, stay safe, breathe deeply of Christ’s love and grace, and, as always, stay awake to how God is at work in your life and our world.
Missing you, Calvary, even as we are Together while Apart,