Local churches to toll bells for shooting victims
Six Valley churches will be tolling their bells at 9:30 a.m. today to remember the victims of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre that occurred on Friday, Dec. 14.
The Rev. Tim Arensmeier, pastor of the Sonoma Valley Community Church, heard that Connecticut Gov. Daniel Malloy asked churches in his state to toll their bells 26 times at 9:30 a.m. Friday, and worked to bring the remembrance to the Valley.
“We’ve gotten a wonderful response from the Valley,” he said.
In addition to the Sonoma Valley Community Church, other churches participating include the Glen Ellen Community Church, the First Congregational Church, St. Andrew Presbyterian, Sonoma United Methodist Church and Trinity Episcopal.
“I was struck when I heard what the churches are doing,” Arensmeier said. “And I said, ‘we’ve got to do that.’”
Most will be ringing the bells in their tower, but since St. Andrew doesn’t have a church tower bell, it will be using one of the large bells from its handbell set.
Arensmeier said that between each bell tolling, the name of a victim will be read.
The pastors of the churches say joining in is a way to express their grief and horror at the school massacre.
“The unbearable sorrow of the murders in Newtown has left families shattered and the nation devastated. While we are helpless to undo this particular horror, our church is joining others in the Valley and across the nation to mark this tragic loss. Our reading of the names and tolling of the bell is a reminder that we are not separate from the families in Newtown, or from each other,” said the Rev. Ted Virts from the Sonoma United Methodist Church.
“John Donne, in the early 16th century, wrote a meditation that declares ‘no one is an island ... anyone’s death diminishes me.’ The tolling of the bells is a lament for the lost children and adults, and a lament for each of us that lethal violence has become the all too familiar expression of rage, illness, fear and revenge,” Virts said.
The Rev. Rich Gantenbein at St. Andrew agrees.
“We’re participating because it’s a way of giving expression to our grief and horror. What I know is that grief that’s shared is somehow grief that is just a bit more bearable,” he said. “I’m very concerned that our grief and horror translates into more fear. Prudence maybe. But not more fear. Fear shuts us down and takes a terrible toll on us and our children.”
Gantenbein said it won’t be one act that will make the difference, it’ll be the thousands of little acts that meld together into a hopeful response even in the face of horrific loss.
“It will be communities coming together in new ways to address real concerns about school safety and how we protect the mentally ill from themselves and us in ways that don’t demean and lessen all of us,” he added. “That’s going to take thoughtful hope not hopeless fear.”
The Rev. Nancy Taylor, of First Congregational, said each ring will represent the life of each person shot to death last Friday.
“Each ring will also represent 100 of the estimated 2,800 children and teenagers killed by guns in the U.S. each year,” she said. “We are ringing the bell in lament, in solidarity with all families who are grieving, and as a congregation that is seeking to be peacemakers in a world enthralled with violence.”
The Rev. Jim Hill at the Glen Ellen Community Church said communities across the country are grieving with the residents of Newtown.
“As we continue to pray for those who mourn and for those who were first responders, the church bells in our communities bring comfort that, in the midst of tragedy, there is hope because God is close by,” Hill said. “He tells us in His word that He is ‘close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit’ (Psalm 34:18). Therefore, it is our desire to speak hope and encouragement into the lives of our communities.”