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Ringing Out for Lives Lost: Church Sounds Bell in Honor of COVID-19 Victims

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WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Each ring is a life lost.

“We gather here beside our bell and we acknowledge how many people have died in the state of Iowa in the last week due to COVID-19,” says Pastor Cindy Hickman.

This week, members of the West Des Moines United Methodist Church rang the bell 34 times. Last week it was 43, the week before 28 rings.

“The very first Sunday we did it, on June 1, it was 533 people,” says 90-year-old parishioner Bob Meyer, who came up with the idea to do this weekly. “It just means we are remembering people that suffered through a real strenuous time.”

“Each time it rings, it’s sort of saying we care and we feel your grief, we share in your sorrow,” said Hickman.

Volunteers plan to keep ringing the bell each Monday morning until the pandemic is over.

“Hopefully it means something to the families of the person that passed away,” shared Meyer.

“As Bob reminds us every Monday morning of the loss of this, it helps us to clarify what we should do,” said Hickman. “It really encourages us to take (the pandemic) seriously.”

The effort it takes to make that sound is symbolic.

“The only way that this bell rings is by a human body pulling on the rope,” said Hickman. “And if you haven’t ever rung a bell like this, it pulls back at you. You have to be ready for what’s going on.”

Because we never know what curveballs the pandemic might throw at us next.

“It reminds us to take precautions, to wear a mask, to social distance, to do all that we can to deny the virus a place to invade,” stressed Hickman.

Even mourning looks different these days.

“We’re not able to gather and be safe. So this is a time for us to grieve, to lament. That’s kind of an old-fashioned Bible word but to just really grieve and be sad about what’s happened,” said Hickman.

“I think it means a lot to people. I know when I was ringing the bell, especially the older people, they’ll stop out here and listen to the bell,” said Meyer.

The sound carries far beyond the church’s property.

“We’re right at the corner of 8th Street and Grand [Avenue], and as we ring this bell, we know that the sound of it goes out into our neighborhood and into our city,” said Hickman. “I like to think that people in our neighborhood are also saying ‘There’s that church and they’re remembering today and we can all remember.’”

They are remembering those who lost their fight against the coronavirus.

“A couple weeks ago, we had a very dear friend of the church that passed away and his family happened to be in town and they got to ring the bell,” shared Meyer. “So from that standpoint, it means an awful lot to me.”

They also want to remind others it’s up to the rest of us to do our part.

“I think that is the message, that we’re in this together and together we need to do the things that will overcome the pandemic,” said Hickman.

Because at the end of the day, we’re all fighting the same battle.

“It also acknowledges that we’re human beings and there’s beauty in us and love. I think a bell says that, maybe in a way that other things can’t,” exclaimed Hickman.

The church rings the bell each Monday morning at 10:30 a.m. They also livestream it on their Facebook page so everyone can gather virtually.

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