Church Bells Toll in Vienna to Honor COVID-19 Victims

The Town of Vienna joined other communities across the U.S. yesterday (Tuesday) in taking a moment to mourn and honor the more than 2 million people around the world who have died from COVID-19 over the past year.

About two dozen mask-wearing town residents and public officials gathered at the corner of Park and Church streets in front of the Vienna Presbyterian Church to ring the chapel bells for 20 minutes starting at 5:30 p.m.

“Given our longstanding existence in this community, it’s really important for us to help lead these types of efforts, so we wanted to ring the bells so the whole community can hear,” Vienna Presbyterian Church Director of Missions Sue Hamblen said. “We just thought it was something VPC should do.”

The ceremony commenced with brief remarks from Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert, who was joined by Town Councilmember Howard Springsteen’s wife, Anne Driscoll, as the first bell ringers.

Vienna Presbyterian Church leaders invited staff members and some people in the community who they knew lost a loved one to COVID-19 to sign up in advance to ring the church bell, but anyone who attended was allowed to participate.

Colbert described the vigil as a show of unity fitting for a town where she has seen people support each other with acts of kindness throughout the pandemic.

“This year has been unbelievably sad and challenging for so many people,” Colbert said. “So many sad, unnecessary lives have been lost, and I’m proud that Vienna and that my home church is part of this today.”

Hamblen concluded the ceremony with a prayer that the church’s mission partner in South Africa had shared so that it could be spoken all around the world. She also provided a moment for people to say the names of COVID-19 victims that they knew.

Among those who rang the bell were Vienna Presbyterian Church congregation members Bill and Judy Ichord.

The couple does not personally know anyone who has died from COVID-19, but Judy Ichord has two nieces who work as nurses and contracted the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, one of whom was only in her first year of training at a hospital.

“We just think it’s a time when the country really needs to come together and pull together and remember those who we lost, but also think about the future together as Americans and human beings,” Bill Ichord said. “The whole world needs to heal right now.”

Organized by President Joe Biden’s inaugural committee, the national COVID-19 memorial encouraged people to ring a bell and light a candle for a collective moment of remembrance. It took place on the same day that the U.S. COVID-19 death toll surpassed 400,000, including 754 people in the Fairfax Health District alone, as of this morning.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. to light the Reflecting Pool, while the bell at the National Cathedral rang 400 times, each toll representing 1,000 Americans who have died from the novel coronavirus.

While the pandemic has not yet abated, Hamblen says it’s important for communities to have an opportunity to come together and mourn their losses.

Vienna Presbyterian Church will put a video of the ceremony on its website so that people who were unable to come can watch it.

“It was a collective experience, and so, I think our grief should be collective and our honoring of them should be collective,” Hamblen said. “That’s why we want to do it as a community. We haven’t been able to gather. Funerals haven’t happened, and so, this is our effort to join people together to mourn as a group.”

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