Episcopal churches, camps on eclipse’s path of totality prepare to host watch parties

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Apr 1, 2024

On April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will be visible along a narrow path stretching from Mexico to Canada. Photo: NASA

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal churches and camps along the April 8 total solar eclipse’s path of totality are preparing to welcome visitors as millions of people are expected to travel to the path of totality to witness the natural phenomenon.

A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between Earth and the sun, briefly casting a shadow over Earth. Next week’s will cross over North America, entering through Mexico’s Pacific coast near Mazatlán and exiting through Canada’s Newfoundland along the Atlantic coast. More than 31 million Americans live inside the eclipse’s 115-mile path of totality, the track of the moon’s shadow. After this year, the next total solar eclipse to cross the contiguous United States will occur on Aug. 23, 2044.

For the Rev. T.J. Tetzlaff, rector of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Noblesville, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis, the eclipse offers an opportunity to host an event that “unites everybody” who witnesses it. St. Michael’s is opening its space for people to park their cars, picnic and watch the eclipse for free.

“It’s a really cool event, and we’re just so happy that we can be there and witness the eclipse with the community at the same time,” Tetzlaff told Episcopal News Service. “Regardless of our backgrounds, or what we’re experiencing in our personal lives, a large-scale world event like this is something that everybody has access to and can see and witness and share together. It’s not something that’s reserved for some people and not for others. All you have to do is look up and it’s right there.”

Indianapolis is one of several cities on the 2024 total solar eclipse’s path of totality. The eclipse will also pass Dallas, Texas; Hugo, Oklahoma; Little Rock, Arkansas; Cape Girardeau, Missouri; Cleveland, Ohio; Buffalo, New York; Burlington, Vermont; Island Falls, Maine; and others. Altogether, 12 states are on the path of totality.

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 will darken, and the air temperature will suddenly drop. Totality will last between and 4½ minutes. 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.

People outside the path of totality must wear eclipse glasses, or solar viewers, approved by the International Organization for Standardization throughout the eclipse’s duration. People in the path of totality must also wear eclipse glasses when the moon isn’t completely covering the sun. Those without eclipse glasses can make a homemade pinhole camera.

“This astronomical and celestial event is gathering people, whether it’s friends or family or strangers, and hopefully it’ll create some new relationships,” Johnson Jeffers, director of Camp Capers in Waring, Diocese of West Texas, north of San Antonio, told ENS.

About 250 people have registered to attend Camp Capers’ family friendly EclipseFest, which will include live music, food trucks, a concession stand and access to the camp’s hiking and walking trails. 

Jeffers said most registrants are from Texas, but people from Arizona, California and Colorado will also go to Camp Capers for EclipseFest.

“We’re excited, honored and privileged that people are choosing to join us, many because of their ties to Camp Capers,” he said. “Here at Camp Capers, we’re all about relationships and relationship-building.”

Camp Mitchell, in Conway, Diocese of Arkansas, plans to host up to 200 campers the weekend of the eclipse. Physics students from a Louisiana community college will use a weather balloon to collect, analyze and publish atmospheric data for NASA while staying at Camp Mitchell. Rebecca Roetzel, Camp Mitchell’s executive director, told ENS that an “eclipse chaser,” or umbraphile, who’s a parishioner at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, will also stay at Camp Mitchell for the eclipse.

“This special camp opportunity has become this really deep and wide, rich pool of mostly Episcopalian contacts and families and longtime generational campers, and I’m so excited for it,” Roetzel said.

Sheldon Calvary Camp in Conneaut, Ohio, in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, will also host a path of totality celebration with live entertainment, meals, an educational presentation and a campfire. Registrants are coming in from Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and other states.

“[Participants] can expect our hospitality and a safe place to observe this pretty spectacular event,” Timothy Green, Sheldon Calvary Camp’s director, told ENS. “We want people to have a good experience, because this particular area will more than double the population the day of the eclipse and food will be a hard thing to find.”

Solar eclipse 2016

A total solar eclipse is seen from the beach of Ternate island, Indonesia, March 9, 2016. A total solar eclipse will cross the United States on April 8, 2024. Photo: Reuters

For those looking to observe totality in a group but away from a festival atmosphere, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Put-in-Bay, Ohio, on South Bass Island in Lake Erie, is hosting an event where people can quietly watch the eclipse and engage in reflection and prayer.

“I’m really looking forward to watching the eclipse in a context that’s grounded in God’s good creation and how we live in it, and for time to really think and reflect and pray on that,” the Rev. Bob Solon, priest-in-charge at St. Paul’s, told ENS. “As Americans, we don’t get enough time like that very often.”

This year’s total solar eclipse following Easter hasn’t gone unnoticed by Episcopalians. Tetzlaff preached the parallels of Jesus’ death and resurrection with the eclipse during his Easter Sunday sermon:

“Jesus passes through the darkness of death through the darkness of the tomb, ultimately coming through and out of the tomb into the light of the Resurrection, which is what we all inherit through the grace of Christ. In some ways, we are witnessing something similar to what happened on Golgotha [Calvary] right after the Crucifixion of Christ, when darkness falls on Earth. But then we can take comfort knowing that it will pass and that the light and the warmth, and the radiance of the heavens, overcomes all darkness and shines upon us,” he said. “The more churches react and respond to events that affect everybody all at once, like the eclipse, rather than remain within our own buildings, the more connected we become to our faith into our communities.”

In this year’s Easter message, Oklahoma Bishop Poulson C. Reed wrote, “Whenever we are in awe of the natural world around us, and especially anything with light [sun, moon and stars], let us not forget that they point to God.

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

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