49 Bells Project

By The Reverend Susan Springer

Church bells across Colorado are being rung 49 times on Wednesdays at 1:00 pm, one toll in remembrance of each person killed in the Orlando shootings on June 12. As we toll the bells, we will hold in prayer not only those killed in Orlando, but those killed, injured, and bereaved in San Bernardino, Aurora, Newtown, Dallas, Baghdad, Nice, Munich, and countless other communities.

Why are we doing this? Since the early Middle Ages, churches have rung bells to call people to prayer, and to call a community to attention. Our project engages both. We will be ringing our bells to remember those killed and to bear prophetic witness to the fact that, on an average day, 91 Americans are killed with guns — around 33,000 people a year. After each mass shooting we, like many other Americans, are outraged and deeply saddened. We pray. In time, the shock of the incident diminishes. The demands of our own lives intervene and draw our attention elsewhere — until the next tragic incident occurs. We find ourselves praying that each incident will be the last, and yet they continue.

We know Christ calls us to preach peace and to work for healing, and so when we are silent or inactive it weighs heavily on our conscience. When we throw up our hands in despair or point fingers of blame at others, we are ashamed. Despite our failings, God patiently and persistently agitates our hearts. God is urging us to bear witness and to not permit the tragic epidemic of gun violence to become part of a new normal.
And so we ring our church bells to speak out to those who with us can effect substantive and systemic change: our neighbors and our community, including our elected representatives.

Some of us are pro-gun and some of us are anti-gun. Even so, as people of faith we share in common an aversion to gun violence, and we believe there are many others in our community and across our nation who share this conviction. We hope the ringing of 49 Bells on Wednesdays is a project that compels our elected lawmakers to hear and remember their solemn duty to both the dead and the living: to stop political posturing and to work together to pass legislation that fosters greater safety, and hopefully helps lay the groundwork for a reawakening of sanity and civility in a world that so desperately needs it.

When you hear church bells tolling on Wednesdays at 1:00 pm or witness the countless other demonstrations of awareness and solidarity in our churches across Colorado, please stop for a moment and honor the dead, pray for healing for the injured and bereaved, and give thanks for the gift of one more day of life. Ask for the grace to be an instrument of peace in this world instead of an agent of violence and hate. Ask for the strength and courage to work for positive change. Thank you.

The Reverend Susan Springer is the Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder.