Episcopalians share their experiences watching eclipse in totality

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Apr 9, 2024

All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Russellville, Arkansas, hosted primitive camping spaces on its large property for the April 8, 2024 total solar eclipse. Russellville was located on the eclipse’s path of totality. Photo: All Saints’ Episcopal Church/Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians who witnessed the April 8 total solar eclipse’s totality shared their experiences on social media.

I get it now. Darkness at 3:06 in the afternoon was simply surreal and unforgettable. And today is the Feast of the Annunciation, transferred,” Indianapolis Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows wrote on Facebook. “The metaphors of light coming into the darkness are so much more.”

Baskerville-Burrows also shared photos of the eclipse over the Indiana State Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis, where Christ Church Cathedral is located.

Indianapolis was one of several cities on the 2024 total solar eclipse’s path of totality. The eclipse also passed Dallas, Texas; Hugo, Oklahoma; Little Rock, Arkansas; Carbondale, Illinois; Cape Girardeau, Missouri; Cleveland, Ohio; Erie, Pennsylvania; Buffalo, New York; Burlington, Vermont; Lancaster, New Hampshire; Houlton, Maine; and others. Altogether, 12 states were on the path of totality.

The skies parted over The Episcopal Church of Saint Thomas the Apostle at just the right time and our group was afforded perfect viewing of this incredible event!” wrote the Rev. Christopher Blake Thomas, the Dallas church’s rector. “God really is wonder-filled!”

total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, briefly blocking the sun and casting a shadow over the Earth. This week’s crossed over North America, entering through Mexico’s Pacific coast near Mazatlán and exited through Canada’s Newfoundland along the Atlantic coast.

“We had an amazing time celebrating the vast expanse of interstellar space with Christ Churchers and guests from out of town,” says a post on Christ Episcopal Church in Little Rock’s Facebook page.

The next total solar eclipse will occur on Aug. 12, 2026. The path of totality will cross over Greenland, Iceland, Spain, Portugal and Russia.

Depending on the total solar eclipse’s location, the sun’s light may be partially or completely blocked. Totality, or the maximum phase of a total solar eclipse, is when the moon completely covers the sun, leaving a thin, shimmering corona around the lunar limb, or the edge of the moon’s visible surface. During totality, the sky darkens, and the air temperature suddenly drops. Depending on several astronomical factors and location, totality can last between a few seconds and 7½ minutes. This year, totality lasted between 3½ and 4½ minutes. In Indianapolis, it lasted about 3 minutes and 50 seconds. Total solar eclipses occur every one to three years but are usually only visible from the middle of an ocean or one of Earth’s poles.

All along the April 8 eclipse’s path of totality, Episcopal churches and camps hosted watch parties and offered camping opportunities for some of the millions of people who traveled to witness the natural phenomenon. In Russellville, Arkansas, northwest of Little Rock, All Saints’ Episcopal Church offered primitive camping spaces on its large property with walking access to festivities in the city’s downtown area. “Eclipse chasers,” or umbraphiles, who stayed at All Saints’ came from Germany, Nebraska, Colorado and elsewhere.

“It’s been a worthwhile experience for the church to be present during the eclipse and welcoming travelers,” the Rev. Mercedes Clements, rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church, told Episcopal News Service before the eclipse. “It’s definitely stepping outside of what we would normally do.”

The eclipse also served as an educational opportunity for some host churches and camps. At Waycross Camp in Morgantown, Indiana, a former astronomy professor gave a presentation on what happens during a total solar eclipse while participants waited for totality to begin.

“Thank you all who came out to see the eclipse on our lawn! We had a great time sharing food, music, fellowship and getting to know our neighbors,” says a post on the Church of the Nativity in Indianapolis’ Facebook page.

Visitors also participated in eclipse-related science experiments while at Church of the Nativity.

While a total solar eclipse is mostly celebrated by people along its path of totality, it’s viewed as a negative omen in some cultures, including Navajo and other Indigenous communities. On Facebook, the Episcopal Church in Navajoland explained a total solar eclipse’s meaning in Navajo culture:

“The Navajo term for a solar eclipse, Jóhonaa’éí Daaztsą́, holds profound spiritual significance. It symbolizes the Sun’s death and is an occasion for prayer and introspection. 

“During the eclipse, the moon (Tł’é’honaa’éí) will obstruct the Sun (Jo’honaa’éí). Following Diné’s teachings, one must not look at the eclipse or its shadow and should refrain from going outdoors. One must respect the eclipse by focusing inward through stillness, meditation, and homebound prayer and not partaking of food, water, or sleep during the eclipse period.

“Respect is the ultimate teaching. Respect the Sun in its time of dying, which is believed to be happening in our culture, much like you would respect an elder passing away. When the Sun returns, it’s considered a joyous occasion, a new birth, and a recognized time to make resolutions. But be joyous when the Sun returns. Return to life, renewal.”

The next total solar eclipse to cross the contiguous United States will occur on Aug. 23, 2044. On Aug. 12, 2045, another total solar eclipse will cross over the United States’ Pacific and Atlantic coasts, entering through northern California, crossing through several Caribbean islands and exiting through northern Brazil.

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service based in northern Indiana. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.