Religion Unplugged The Ross News

For lessons on closed houses of worship, look at 1918 flu pandemic

By Bobby Ross Jr. | Religion Unplugged

Editor’s note: Every Friday, “Weekend Plug-In” features analysis, insights and top headlines from the world of faith. Got feedback or ideas for this column? Email Bobby Ross Jr. at

I thought I knew a little about my family’s history.

I’ve written about my grandfather Lloyd Lee Ross, whose World War II service earned him a Bronze Star Medal and a Purple Heart. Papa died in 2011 at age 93.

I’ve visited the rural West Tennessee cemetery where generations of my relatives — going all the way back to my great-great-great-great-grandfather Daniel Ross (1791-1842) — are buried.

But not until the COVID-19 crisis hit did I learn about the global influenza pandemic of 1918 — known colloquially as the Spanish flu — and my family’s connection to it.

I knew that Papa lost his father when he was a baby. It turns out that my great-grandfather William Charles Ross (1883-1918) died on Nov. 15, 1918, at age 35 from the flu pandemic. Papa, the youngest of William Charles’ five children, was nine days shy of eight months old.

I appreciate my Uncle Chuck educating me on these details from our family’s past.

Given my interest in religion, I am grateful, too, for the journalists digging through newspaper archives to report on how houses of worship responded to the 1918 pandemic, which killed nearly 700,000 in the U.S. and 50 million globally.

Read the full column.

This column is published each Friday by Religion Unplugged and Religion News Service.

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