NEW YORK -- The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Manhattan, one of the largest church buildings in the world, will partner with the Rev. Franklin Graham’s ministry, Samaritan’s Purse, to set up a field hospital under its 124-foot-high stone nave, Graham said Monday.
Church officials told the Times that about 400 beds were delivered last week, although it’s unclear whether novel coronavirus patients will be treated there.
The crypt will be used as “a staging area” for medical personnel, Daniel told the Times, and it’s the first time the cathedral will be used as a hospital.
Efforts to reach staff at the cathedral and staff at Mount Sinai were not successful late Monday.
“In the history and tradition of the church, and following the example of Jesus, cathedrals have long served as places of refuge and healing in times of plague and community crisis,” Daniel said in a statement to Episcopal News Service. Last week, the church tweeted that it planned to help the city by providing space for beds during this time.
As churches across the country are generally closed to the public, many pastors are trying to figure out how to use empty facilities that would normally be holding worship services and community events. The Washington National Cathedral, for example, is hoping to set up a blood bank for the Red Cross in the coming weeks, according to the cathedral’s spokesman, Kevin Eckstrom.
In New York City on Monday, the number of coronavirus cases reached 68,766, including an estimated 15,333 patients who were hospitalized, and the death toll was 2,738, according to the Times.
St. John the Divine, which is located in the Morningside Heights neighborhood near Columbia University, serves as the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of New York and is a popular tourist destination, usually charging $10 per adult sightseer.
Cathedrals have historically been where community needs were addressed, said Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, and unlike many cathedrals that have pews, St. John the Divine has removable chairs, which puts it in a unique position where the floor space can be used in different ways.
“We have to join hands together, transcending our differences," he said. “This terrible pandemic is forcing or compelling us to find a way to love each other and to care for each other.”
Graham said that Samaritan’s Purse, which is one of the largest evangelical institutions in the country, was asked by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the White House to take a team to New York to build a 14-tent, 68-bed respiratory care hospital in Central Park in late March. Then Mount Sinai asked if the ministry could help put the beds in the church, since St. John the Divine had the building, and Samaritan’s Purse had the people, Graham said.
The partnership between Samaritan’s Purse and a legacy institution with a reputation as the center for liberal causes is highly unusual. Even before they were accepted as Episcopal church clergy, the church gave its stone pulpit over to women and gay people, and it invited leaders of other religious traditions to preach.
“We all need to be working together and put our differences aside,” Graham said. “We’re not there to talk about politics. We’re not there to talk about gay marriage. We’re there to save lives.”
For decades, Graham’s comments about Islam and gay people have been controversial and raised red flags for some when his Samaritan’s Purse came to New York.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) told reporters last week that his office would “monitor” the facility to ensure staff would not discriminate against anyone. Graham said that members of the mayor’s office visited the facility on Sunday, adding that they were not concerned over issues of discrimination.
“Regardless of who comes in, we’re going to do what we can to save them,” Graham said. “This coronavirus is going to kill Democrats, Republicans, independents. It’s going to kill gay people, straight people, African Americans, whites, Asians. It is not a respecter of persons.”
Graham said that he didn’t realize how serious the coronavirus pandemic was until three weeks ago, when a member of his staff in North Carolina was diagnosed with the virus that causes the disease covid-19. The staff member had been returning from Africa and believes he picked it up when transferring in Dubai. Even though he tried to self-quarantine, Graham said, his wife became ill and Graham saw how infectious the virus could be.
“That’s when I realized this is a serious deal,” he said. “It made a believer out of me.”
Shortly after, Samaritan’s Purse sent a team to Italy.
Graham described the virus as “part of the fallen world.”
“We have worshiped other gods in this country, and those gods are sports or entertainment,” he said. “You can’t go to a basketball game and concerts. The people we’ve idolized are on the shelf. I think God is trying to get our attention. He wants us to worship him.”
The cathedral has had challenges leading up to the recent crisis. One year ago, on Palm Sunday, a fire in the church’s crypt forced its worshipers outside, just one day before the famed Notre Dame cathedral in Paris was overcome by flames.
This story has been updated to include comments made Tuesday by Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.
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