DOVER — Looking for the light at the end of a long COVID-19 tunnel, Presbyterian Church of Dover unveiled its illuminated Garden Remembrance Memorial on Monday night, honoring the 1,659 lives that have been lost in Delaware due to the coronavirus.
The memorial, which sits in the courtyard of the church at 65 S. State St., is also meant to provide a peaceful space for healing, reflection and prayer.
Duke Dixon, the church’s pastor, said the area can serve whatever purpose a person needs it to be. Visitors may also leave messages dedicated to their lost loved ones at the site, which will be open through July 26.
“The purpose of the garden is to provide a place where people can come and reflect, pray, read, whatever they need to do, as we remember not just the deaths but the many ways that COVID has touched our lives,” Pastor Dixon said.
The pastor also told the back story of the Garden Remembrance Memorial at the beginning of Monday’s half-hour ceremony, attended by around 50 people.
“We started around February, and we did a lot of planning, and we did a lot of changing things,” Pastor Dixon said. “We had tubes laid up all over the Fellowship Hall, trying different assortments and how they might look, and then, we came up with the concept of a graph, and each column represents the number of people that died that month. The color represents the birthstones of each month, and then, we came up with people that tell a story.
“Each of these tubes has a light at the back that represents the light of the person that was lost and is a reminder of the hope that we have in the world today.”
Moving away from the colored tubes representing the monthly COVID-19 death toll, there is a statue that appears to be a person dancing as the state moves away from the virus, as well as another tube monument portraying people with their arms raised in the air, celebrating a return to normalcy.
“Now, we’re at the point where we can see the end in sight,” said Pastor Dixon. “We see through the dark tunnel, and our mourning is turning into dancing, and now, we hope we’re at the end of COVID, and we’re able to rejoice in the Lord because we’re once again able to be with family and friends.”
Patricia Malcolm, a deacon at Christ Episcopal Church in Dover, opened the ceremony with a prayer. She was followed by a couple other pastors from the area, who told stories of the pandemic and offered prayers for healing, as well.
“God of mercy and grace, help us to rise above the fear, the loneliness and isolation,” Deacon Malcolm said in prayer. “Help us to hold on to the one who is our refuge and our strength, our very present help in trouble. Bring us strength as we define new normals.
“Through our faith and knowledge of you, ... we find the courage, compassion, wisdom and patience we need, not just to survive these challenging times but to come out a more compassionate, caring and stronger community in the name of love and peace.”
Members of the church’s bell choir performed “Songs of Hope” before a moment of silence, and the church bells tolled 15 times to represent each month people have died in Delaware since the outbreak of COVID-19.
The hundreds of tubes that make up the monuments were donated by Whitehill Manufacturing, a synthetic rope supplier in Chester Township, Pennsylvania.
Members of the church used the large construction-grade cardboard tubes to construct the multicolored bar graph by month, with each tube representing one person who has died in the last year-and-a-half due to the virus.
The Delaware Division of Public Health said the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed 1,659 lives in Delaware since it first infected the state in March 2020, so chances are pretty good that almost everybody knew at least one person who fell victim to the coronavirus over the past 14 months.
David Denny, a member of Presbyterian Church of Dover, was pleased at how the church’s project turned out.
“I was one of a core group of around six people that did this,” Mr. Denny said. “My responsibility was to make sure everything got put up, and as you can see, the one (December 2020) is 9 feet, 3 inches tall and then a platform underneath it, so it was very extensive. We also have supports in the back to keep them from falling over.
“We had people that painted the tubes, and we had people that would come in over various hours and put in two hours’ worth of work, and then, they’d go home, and somebody else would come in. Then, we just hoped it all went like it was supposed to.”
Mr. Denny said Pastor Dixon even surprised them with the additional statues.
“I think it’s just fantastic,” Mr. Denny said of the monuments showing the emergence from the pandemic. “We didn’t recognize the story that (Pastor Dixon) told until we got it up here and saw it in place. It’s rather involved, but it’s really fantastic. I’m honored to have been a part of it.”