Prayer Walkers to honor those affected by COVID-19


JASPER — As the U.S. approaches one year of living in a pandemic, everyone has been affected by COVID-19 in some way. It’s easy to get caught up in the tragedy, the daunting statistics, the uncertainty of when or if life can return to “normal.”

This month, the U.S. hit a grim milestone that to most seemed unfathomable a year ago: 500,000 COVID-19 deaths. More than 12,000 of those deaths have been in Indiana  almost enough to fill the entire city of Jasper.

People like Stacy Gutgsell and many others at Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center refuse to lose hope, though.

As a health care worker at Memorial, Gutgsell has spent many days at the epicenter of heartache. She sees patients unable to visit with loved ones for longer than short windows of time, if at all, while staff works longer and harder hours than ever before.

“Covid has really spun all of our lives in many circles,” she said. “I feel like we're still spinning. It’s hitting all of us.”

Gutgsell, who has been in the health care field for 12 years, has always believed that prayer is the foundation of how to care for patients.

On Jan. 9, after an early morning prayer with a patient, she decided to pray in a new way  by walking the perimeter of the hospital every day. Whether it’s snowing or freezing or late after a long day of work, she’s out there.

On difficult days, she reminds herself that if patients and staff can continue on while they’re stuck in the hospital without their loved ones, then she can walk for 30 or so minutes a day.

“It’s like God is saying, ‘You have the time. Don't go home. It’s a long day for somebody inside those walls, and someone is needing lifted up,’” she said. “I'm not perfect, but I can pray.”

After she began her own walking journey, Gutgsell helped create a website and Facebook page called Prayer Walkers, which has more than 350 followers. Although she runs the Facebook page, several others in her life, including many at the hospital, have helped Prayer Walkers become possible.

March 6 will begin the official 30 days of prayer, where a different group will walk the perimeter of Memorial Hospital each day for a month in honor of those who have suffered or died because of COVID-19.

Gutgsell said she hopes that those inside the hospital will be able to look out the window every day and see people down below spending time in solidarity with them.

Anyone who is interested is welcome to participate in the prayer walks, Gutgsell said, and there’s no right or wrong way to pray, as long as you’re talking to God. Some prefer to recite scripture or sing while others prefer to have casual conversations in their heads. Many believe there is strength in numbers, that praying together is especially powerful.

To Gutgsell, praying is a love language. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to decide how to express it, though, so prayer walkers will likely be given a pamphlet of ideas.

Gutgsell has used prayer for support throughout her life, she said. She’s seen it when she helped coordinate hurricane relief. She’s seen it when she’s worked with people experiencing homelessness. As a runner, she’s felt it as she’s crossed the finish line of 100-mile races, praying for a different person at each mile marker. 

“I've seen the power of prayer far too many times in my life to say, ‘Nope, it's not going to work,’” she said. “We just need to bind together so we can make it through this and be restored to something more.”

Those interested in participating in Prayer Walkers can sign up for 30-minute increments from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. every day at Masks are required both inside and outside.

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