Every morning around 10:30, Patrick Collins counts out hundreds of white flags to be planted on the front lawn of his Old Greenwich, Connecticut, church – one flag for each Covid-19 victim in the state from the previous day.
“My hope is that everyone, whoever sees it, takes it as an opportunity to reflect on wherever they are at in this moment in time,” Collins, the pastor of the First Congregational Church, told CNN. “To take it as a somber reminder that we are in this and we’re all in this together and we’re all in experiencing this loss together.”
The church now has thousands of flags on the lawn as Connecticut’s death toll has risen.
Collins hopes it sends a message to the families and friends of Covid-19 victims who can’t gather for funerals to remember their loved ones.
“The victims are not forgotten,” he says. “They are more than a number. Your grandfather, your grandmother, your mother. They are more than a statistic and we won’t forget them through this.”
While some parishioners have gotten the virus, Collins says, no one from the church has died. A number of parishioners have had family members die from Covid-19.
As of Friday afternoon, Connecticut has the sixth-highest death toll in the US from Covid-19, with 2,257 victims.
Memorializing each victim with each flag
Reflecting on the rising death toll during his church’s Holy Week celebration in early April is what led him to the idea.
“There are people who are dying, essentially alone, and it feels like we are talking about moving on without honoring the people who have died,” he says.
So, he decided to plant white flags for each death on the church’s expansive front lawn to memorialize the victims in Connecticut. Each time he pushes a flag into the ground, he says, he takes a moment to remember that it’s in memory of a person who likely died alone.
“That’s not how God intended us to go through this process,” he says. “We are relational in nature. Human nature craves to be with each other, especially in those moments, and to deny that is to deny our humanity as well.”
The white flags are a somber and reverent reminder of the death toll, he says. They also carry on the church’s Easter teachings: “White is a symbol of hope and new beginnings.”
Running out of flags, and room
With the death toll just over 200 in early April, Collins ordered his first batch of 700 flags: $8 for a bundle of 100. Before the first flags even arrived, he placed another order for 1,000 flags because the death toll had skyrocketed to well over 500.
Collins has, again, run out of flags and hopes another shipment is scheduled to arrive Friday. But that’s not his only logistical issue.
His layout of the flags was methodical: place the flags in rows, about five paces or 60 inches apart, so that the lawn mower could still get around the flags.
But there’s so many flags on the lawn that Collins has run out of room.
“It is taking up the entire front lawn,” he says.