October 12: Churchless Sundays
Life changed drastically for Americans when the Spanish flu pandemic struck in 1918. Nearly one third of the world’s population became infected. The death toll is estimated as high as fifty million people. Almost seven hundred thousand Americans died. News reports from Spain were not subject to censorship like they were in the rest of Europe, so the rest of the world learned about the disease through Spanish reports. This led to its name as the “Spanish flu.”
The pandemic caused massive social disruption. People were required to wear masks when out in public. Schools, businesses, pool rooms, restaurants, sports venues, and movie theaters were closed. Bodies piled up in makeshift morgues. Many cities even ordered churches closed.
On this date in 1918, two letters in the Fargo Forum and Daily Republican put a different spin on the closure of churches. While some people were upset about their inability to worship in a public setting, two of the city’s ministers portrayed Churchless Sunday in a positive light. Pastor J. Poyntz (points) Tyler acknowledged that the churches would yield to the authorities of the city and remain closed until further notice, but he saw the potential for a positive outcome. He wrote that churchless Sundays would “afford the people all excellent opportunities of being with their families for the day.” The Pastor urged people to hold religious services in their homes by reading the Bible, saying prayers, and singing hymns.
Pastor T.D. Robertson agreed with his fellow minister. He said the day should be “a day of drawing near to God in prayer for personal, national, and world salvation.” Referring to World War I, he hoped that people would pray for a “speedy victory on the field of battle, that a lasting peace may come to the world…”
Peace did come later that year on November 11th, but the pandemic marched on and so did measures to stop it. Libraries closed so people wouldn’t share books. People with symptoms were forced to remain in quarantine. Spitting on the street became illegal. People were urged to avoid shaking hands. By 1919, the pandemic was winding down. It was finally declared over in the spring of 1920, and life returned to normal.
Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher
- Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Our Churchless Sunday.” Fargo ND. 10/12/1819. Page 4.
- Grand Forks Herald. “No Services To Be Held in City Churches Yet.” Grand Forks ND. 11/2/1918. Page 12.
- Oakes Times. “Facts About the Flickertail State.” Oakes ND. 10/24/1918. Page 2.
- History. “Spanish Flu.” https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-i/1918-flu-pandemic Accessed 9/12/2023.