The bells ring at Wilton UMC to mourn and remember COVID-19 victims

The bells ring at Wilton UMC to mourn and remember COVID-19 victims
Photo Credit: DEREK SAWVELL, The Wilton-Durant Advocate News

June 17, 2020

After three Sundays of online worship in March and watching the Iowa COVID-19 death toll continue to rise, Pastor Steve Braudt wanted to help his congregation and community face the size of this pandemic. 
“In this situation, I wanted something physical to do in response,” he said. “Ringing the bell at noon seemed an ideal way to physically, emotionally, and spiritually respond to this unfolding crisis.”
As of today, He has rung the bell at Wilton United Methodist Church just over 14,000 times during all kinds of weather since April 1 — snow, rain, wind and warm sunshine.
“For one, it gives me a physical way to respond and ease my own stress and anxiety in these troubled times,” Braudt said. “Secondly, since I am basically powerless to change the situation, I pray as I ring. I count the victims unnamed and the victims I know by name. It has become a type of spiritual discipline for me.”
When the death toll hit 500 in Iowa, Braudt switched to ringing once for every hundred victims, and then once for each number added after that. On Sundays, he will continue to ring once for each fatality.

He said he almost always has an audience as he rings. Families out on a walk, congregation members, and people from the community that come in their cars to watch and listen from the parking lot.

“They have all told me it helps them put the number into perspective and brings a sobering reality to this pandemic,” he said. “It is especially poignant as one of the long-term care facility outbreaks is in our town of Wilton and is within 200 yards of the church.”

One of the residents of the long-term care facility, a member of the Wilton United Methodist Church who has just covered from COVID-19, told her son that she could hear the bell and how meaningful it was to her. 

A young man who lives nearby stopped to listen. He asked Braudt about the number of times he was ringing the bell.

“After I explained why to him, I told him that if he wanted to imagine the United States total (COVID-19 deaths) to multiply what he had just experienced by 206 or about 58 hours of bell ringing,” said Braudt. “It got the point across.”

When asked what others might do to help the COVID-19 response in their own communities, Braudt said, 
“First, by acknowledging and recognizing that there are lives that have been lost, people whose health has been permanently disabled, and many souls who are scared, anxious and apprehensive because of the world around them. Second, as a church, we are uniquely called by Christ. We are to be part of the restorative process through constant prayer, unconditional love, and willingness to sacrifice.”