Christ’s Lutheran Church’s “In Memorium,” featuring crosses honoring those who have died during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic on the church’s front lawn on Mill Hill Road in Woodstock continues to grow and has attracted national attention.
That includes two major universities and the Smithsonian Institution, all of which have been working on research about how people have coped with grief during the pandemic when in-person funerals were put on hold and other grief mechanisms were restricted by the virus.
“We want to acknowledge the sadness people feel and the loss and the part of healing through finding new life again,” Rev. Sonja Tillberg Maclary, the church’s longtime pastor said.
The crosses, designed by church member and local artist Julia Santos-Solomon continue to be installed on the front lawn of the church on Mill Hill Road. Several passersbys slowed down to see or even stopped to take a glance as Tillberg Maclary and Santos-Solomon discussed the project on a recent afternoon. “In Memorium” began on June 30, 2020, with an online service along with the unveiling of the handmade crosses constructed by another church member on wood purchased with a small grant church member Carmen Adler found. Behind the crosses is a painting done by church member and artist Lois Ostapczuk depicting a scene near her home on Esopus Creek.
Late in summer 2020, the project attracted the attention of George Washington University’s “Rituals in the Making Project.” According to the Washington D.C.-based university’s website, the project focuses on “funerary ritual practice during the COVID-19 pandemic and is funded by the National Science Foundation. Tillberg Maclary said Sarah Wagner an Anthropology professor at the university saw the service and reached out to the church.
Santos-Solomon said they enjoyed talking with the researchers for the project which featured a Smithsonian-sponsored oral history interview that lasted 40 minutes and the project was featured in an art journal the Smithsonian publishes that goes out to museums, universities and arts institutions across the nation. “This little project attracted the attention of important institutions,” she said. “It will be their permanent archives.”
Tillberg Maclary said that this was the only one in the national oral history project that featured both an online and in-person component. “All the other ones were either in-person or online-only,” she said.
More recently the memorial attracted the attention of researchers at the University of Texas in Austin working on another oral history project called Voces (Spanish for voice) directed by Gilberto Cardenas that is archived at the university’s research library.
Several of the crosses are painted black, bringing attention to black men and women killed by police violence including George Floyd, Jacob Blake and Breonna Taylor, said Tillberg Maclary.
Santos-Solomon said initially the crosses were also painted white with black writing but after talking things over with a friend she decided to change it to a black cross with white writing.
“What these crosses are about are Black lives,” she said.
“It honors the pain of a lot of people,” Tillberg Maclary added.
She said the crosses aren’t limited to COVID-19 related deaths either as people continued to die from other causes during the pandemic and friends and family could not go through normal grieving practices.
The crosses are not dedicated strictly to people from Woodstock or Christians, either, Tillberg Maclary said. But, she added, the memorials must come in the form of a cross.
Santos-Solomon is no stranger to creating works of art at the church. In 2019 she painted a mural on the side of the church’s fellowship hall entitled Woodstock Visual Peace. “We wanted to give people a place to rest with a restful image peaceful image, a wonderful painting of water,” Santos-Solomon said.
But COVID-19 struck and Santos-Solomon lost four family members to COVID. She talked with Tillberg Maclary and other members about doing a project that that humanized people beyond statistics kept by officials. “We collaborated and came up with something that would go beyond us and a service where people would be named,” Santos-Solomon said.
Santos-Solomon recalled how the crosses resonated with local residents right from when it was first installed. “The very first day we had this up and a man came through and said thank you for doing this. He felt something had helped him.”
And Tillberg Maclary said people still stop by and leave little trinkets or plastic flowers on the crosses commemorating their friends or relatives.
The pastor admitted the church is still trying to figure out what the future of this project will be as the Delta variant has brought a resurgence of COVID-19 across the U.S., overwhelmingly among unvaccinated individuals. Those plans do include a more permanent installation in the future, she said.
“Six weeks ago it looked like we were wrapping this up,” Tillberg Maclary said.
For more information about placing a cross in honor of a lost friend or loved one, contact the church by emailing email@example.com or message the church on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ChristWoodstock.