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‘Together, we ring out in sorrow’: Churches throughout county remember those lost to COVID-19

  • The steeple bell rang as residents held candles outside the First Parish Unitarian Church in Northfield on Tuesday, paying respect to those who have died from COVID-19 and honoring those working on the front lines. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The steeple bell rang as residents held candles outside the First Parish Unitarian Church in Northfield on Tuesday, paying respect to those who have died from COVID-19 and honoring those working on the front lines. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • People gather on Court Square in Greenfield on Tuesday evening to remember all who were lost to COVID-19 over the past year. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Iron Bridge luminarias with the Shelburne Fire Tower shining in the background. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Second Congregational Church in Greenfield member Doug Clarke, left, and others gather Tuesday evening to commemorate the 95 lives lost in Franklin County to COVID-19. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Luminarias were placed on the steps of Trinity Church in Shelburne Falls to commemorate those who have lost their lives to COVID-19. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Sheryl Twyon rings the bell Tuesday at the First Congregational Church of Montague in memory of her mother, Beverly Sadler, and all others who lost their lives to COVID-19. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/20/2021 5:16:22 PM

On a cold, clear winter night this week, about two dozen people gathered on the common in Montague Center across from the First Congregational Church of Montague, where five people took turns ringing the church bell to honor the lives of those who have been lost to COVID-19 over the past year.

President-elect Joe Biden, who was inaugurated Wednesday, had asked all churches across the country to ring their bells at the same time to honor the many lives taken due to the disease. The country has reported more than 400,000 deaths since early last year when the pandemic hit the United States.

It was an especially personal experience for bell ringers Sheryl Twyon, who lost her mother, Beverly Sadler, on April 20, to COVID-19 while she was living in a nursing home, and her husband, Jon. He rang the bell as well, not only to remember his mother-in-law, but all those who lost their lives — 95 in Franklin County as of Wednesday.

“It was a very beautiful but sad experience,” Twyon said through tears after ringing the bell.

“This is the second time we’ve rung the bell for COVID,” said church member Ann Fisk, whose husband, Mark, rang the bell. “I heard from Trinity Church in Shelburne Falls asking if we were going to participate — and, of course, it was something we wanted to do.”

Fisk stood on the front lawn of the church greeting residents — everyone wore a mask and practiced social distancing from those outside their “pod.” Luminaria lined the walkway to the entrance of the church, and though it was only 35 degrees Fahrenheit at 5:30 p.m. when the ceremony began, people didn’t seem to notice. They had dressed in heavy winter coats, gloves, hats and scarves, holding candles, cradling them so the flames wouldn’t extinguish when the brisk wind blew.

Some brought chairs while others stood on the common. A few shared stories of people they knew who died of COVID-19 since last March. Church Pastor James Koyama led the group in prayer.

“This pandemic has touched everyone in the country,” Koyama said. “We’re here to express how we feel in a local way.”

Congregation member Peg Bridges said she attended to show that even with such a horrible pandemic taking so many lives, there is light and hope in the world.

“We can only hope that COVID-19 is over soon,” Bridges said.

Brenda O’Gara, another member of the church, said it was important for her to gather with her community to honor those who died.

“Even if we have to do this 6 feet apart, we can still show our unity,” she said. “My heart goes out to all of those who have been touched by COVID.”

While those in Montague Center were gathering, so were others across the river in Greenfield.

Sandy Thomas, a member of the Second Congregational Church in Greenfield, said like in Montague, members of the church placed luminarias outside the church’s front doors and others rang the bell. She said Pastor Susan Tarolli and member Doug Clarke, along with Leea Snape, organized the Greenfield event.

“People have said that it is wonderful to show a sign of respect for those who have passed during this pandemic,” Thomas said. “We share the losses and reflect the light, standing in the faithful hope of resurrection and renewal.”

To the west in Shelburne Falls, the Rev. Marguerite Sheehan gathered with members of her congregation to do the same.

Trinity Church on Severance Street lit luminarias and rang the bell. Jackie Walsh organized the event and members of the church volunteered to ring the bell.

“So many churches throughout the area will do the same,” Sheehan said. “While churches are closed to the public right now because of the pandemic, people can stand outside, socially distanced and wearing masks. The luminaries will be a visual representation of our thoughts for everyone who has died.”

Sheehan said she was told many residents planned to stand outside their homes holding candles and listening to the bell ring.

“We’ve not only lost so many to COVID-19, but we’ve also lost contact and connection with each other because of it,” she added. “We’ve got such goodwill in this community.”

Sheehan recounted how local churches also rang their bells in unison on Sept. 11, 2001.

“It a different, but similar kind of loss,” she said. “It shows how much this Franklin County community cares, though. Together, we ring out in sorrow.”

In Northfield First Parish Unitarian Church rang its bells as part of the national commemoration, and it all took place in the historic church’s newly repaired and renovated bell tower. The church also held a candlelight vigil from 5:30 to 6 p.m., not only in remembrance, but in gratitude for all those serving on the front lines of the pandemic.

Church member Tony Stavely said the candles not only signified the loss, but the rejoicing in new beginnings as the light lengthens, leading the community into a new era of possibility.

“This was in response to what the president-elect (now president) invited people to do,” Stavely said. “We felt it was important to participate.”

The First Parish Unitarian Church’s board of directors wrote in an earlier statement, “Our bells signal our remembrance of those lost; our candles signal our gratitude and our fresh hope with the lengthening of the days and the prospect of relief and new beginnings in the near future. This is a moment when the bells will send a message of remembrance and hope to the whole community.”

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.

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