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Temporary COVID Memorial takes place in Pierre

People gathered virtually from around the state to pay tribute to the over 800 lives lost in South Dakota since the pandemic began.
Published: Nov. 27, 2020 at 12:14 PM CST
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PIERRE, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Eight hundred and forty nine people. That is how many South Dakotans had lost their life to COVID-19 as of Thanksgiving, and that is how many chairs were put out on Hilger’s Gulch the same day to commemorate those lives lost. Organizers say they were prepared to add more chairs if necessary, but the South Dakota Department of Health did not report COVID numbers on the holiday.

The temporary COVID memorial event was sparsely attended in person as organizers had discouraged doing such, but many more thousands watched from the comfort of their homes. Pastor Matthew Spoden of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Pierre led the service.

“Give these families piece, let your presence be close to them as they mourn, and light a fire of compassion in those around them so they will be comforted and cared for by their friends and neighbors.” Spoden prayed.

The event took place just a few hundred yards from the State Capitol, with organizers hoping to emphasize that these were not the only chairs that many would be seeing on Thanksgiving.

However, organizers said that they intended for the event and memorial to be apolitical.

“Simply longing for how life use to be in our rural state, some may gather today, but we stand vigilant.” said Joseph Kucera, one of the organizers with “Stop the Spread South Dakota.” That organization helped organize the event, along with the support of the South Dakota Synod of the ELCA, as well as a donation from The Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota.

A group of Native American tribe members showed up spontaneously to the program, to sing a Lakota memorial song, and to spread ceremonial tobacco over the empty seats, the same kind used for smudging. Native American tribes have been some of the hardest hit by the virus.

The service ended with people commenting to the Facebook live feed the names of those they had known who had passed away from COVID. Grieving together, while separated.

“To love our neighbor even if they are different from you, we can get through this together.” said Spoden.

You can watch a majority of the sermon and memorial service here.

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