SPOTLIGHT: The Bell Tolls for All of Us

SPOTLIGHT: The Bell Tolls for All of Us

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Davis takes his turn at ringing the bell for justice
Davis takes his turn at
ringing the bell for justic
e

 

July 4th is a memorable day for the United States of America.  But July 14 was just as memorable for the Norfield Congregational Church (NCC) in Weston, Connecticut.  On that day, they commemorated the ringing of their 250-year-old sanctuary bell for the 40th consecutive night.  The bell ringing had been used as a signal to the community and a consistent reminder of the injustice that is taking place against people of color.

The bell is rung for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the exact length of time that George Floyd was pinned down and killed in Minnesota on Monday, May 25, 2020. When the Norfield bell tolls, the community is reminded to remember George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and many other people of color who have suffered and are suffering from racial injustice in this country. 

The Board of Outreach and Social Action, along with Mary C. Crawford, Church Moderator, and the pastor, came up with the idea of ringing the Norfield bell. One of the team members suggested that they invite members of the community – town leaders, students and others – to participate in the ringing of the bell so that the whole community could experience how long 8 minutes and 46 seconds really is and how much work there is to do to right the social injustices people of color are experiencing in our world. 

“As I listen to our church bell toll, I am reminded of the words of John Donne that: ‘... any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. Therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee,’” said Rev. Dr. Bernard R. Wilson, NCC Senior Minister. “It is too bad that we have seen the story of George Floyd too often and like the mass shootings that have occurred, we have become almost tone deaf to them. We hear about these killings, have a memorial and then move on. The death of George cannot fade into the night of forgetfulness. In times like these, we must remember that anyone’s grief is everyone’s grief. We are sisters and brothers and all of us are part of one human family.”

Rev. Wilson came up with the idea of having July 14th, 2020, proclaimed as "Ringing of the Bell for Justice" day in the town of Weston, to commemorate the 40th consecutive night of the bell ringing; then folks from the church and community made it happen.  The Racial Justice Ministry Team sent a request to the town’s selectman who granted their request. NCC congregants as well as members of the Weston community gathered in prayer together with Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn from The Conservative Synagogue in Westport, CT and leader of The Weston/Westport Clergy Association, and Chris Spaulding, First Selectman, Town of Weston, read a proclamation to mark the day. (The group maintained social distancing on the lawn.)

The church originally planned to ring the bell for 40 days as a biblical symbol.  But later they extended that to the end of the summer. They had set up an online sign-up system (via Signup Genius) and the slots were filled up in no time.

“We’ve received beautiful short videos from families who have experienced that 8 minutes and 46 seconds, ringing the bell, in solidarity with others,” said Teri Gaberman, Norfield Church Administrative Assistant and member of the Ministry Team for Racial Justice. “It's an incredible, tangible, teachable moment.”

“I rang the Norfield Church bell in memory of George Floyd and many others who were murdered.  But the ringing was also a reminder to me and to the community that our work to end racism has just begun (again),” said Calvin Mew, Chair of the Board of Trustees.  “I am hopeful that Norfield Church will take concrete steps to help eliminate racial injustice in our society.  Maybe a small step only in our small corner of the world, but we will not let this moment pass. Kairos.”

“I hear the Norfield Bell ringing almost every night, either in the distance from my home, or kneeling in front of the church.  It is moving and poignant,” said Tracy Pennoyer, former Moderator and a member of the church for over 20 years.  “While it is just one bell and one rope, its beautiful tone varies depending on the ringer. Some ring it steadily, others passionately. When families ring it, there can be brief moments of quiet as they take turns.  8 minutes and 46 seconds is a long time. When I rang it myself, I thought of our country’s long history of racial injustice. The Norfield Bell was rung at the end of the Civil War. It rings today so we keep our eyes and hearts open and do all we can to heal our community and country.”

Norfield Church bell rings for 8 minutes and 46 seconds

Pennoyer mentioned that she has invited several friends from the community who are not church members to ring the bell and they have been very appreciative. 

“Norfield has a long and proud history of standing tall as the ‘church on the hill,’ the beacon of faith, hope, love and inclusion here in Weston, Connecticut,” said Wilson.  “As a faith and civic community, its members will continue to stand tall and together in the fight against systemic racism and injustice.  Its members will not be silent.”

 

For more information about the bell ringing, you can reach Teri Gaberman at the church office at (203) 227-7886 or email tgaberman@norfield.org.  Please note… At this writing the clapper on the bell came loose after so much ringing. Tracy Pennoyer advises that NCC may take a pause on the ringing but not in their efforts to fight racial injustice and increase awareness as community,

You may reprint this story by including the following line in your article:  Reprinted with permission from Southern New England Conference, United Church of Christ, Spotlight


 

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Author

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Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane

Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane is the Spotlight and Publications Editor for the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ

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