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For whom the bells toll: La Jolla churches join residents’ effort to mourn pandemic losses

Congregational Church of La Jolla
Congregational Church of La Jolla will ring its bells every Friday at noon to support collective pandemic grief, according to resident Molly Bowman-Styles.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Several La Jolla churches have joined an effort by two local residents to express collective mourning amid pandemic-related losses of lives and livelihoods.

Every Friday at noon, church bells in and around The Village will be heard ringing out a message of solidarity to help comfort those who may be grieving in isolation.

The effort was initiated by Molly Bowman-Styles and Barbara Dadswell, local residents who were inspired to act after reading a CNN article that noted “few signs of mourning” throughout the COVID-19 crisis. In San Diego County, the pandemic has been blamed for 701 deaths as of Sept. 4 and about 150,000 job losses since March.

“The article moved me on many levels,” said Bowman-Styles, a Windansea resident for whom the timing of the article was especially resonant, as her father died of cancer in June. “I was adrift; I was trying so hard to work through my grief. I gave it some thought and realized, ‘Well, the whole world is grieving.’”

The article struck a chord, Bowman-Styles said. “Our country won’t possess the emotional and spiritual fortitude to move forward from the ravages of this horrible pandemic if we’re denied the opportunity to experience the transformational power of collective mourning,” she said.

Bowman-Styles believes the isolation brought on by adhering to stay-at-home orders contributes to prolonged grieving.

“When you’re mourning, you need to be affirmed,” she said. “You need to reach out to people. It’s part of the process.”

She talked about the article and her response with Dadswell, a Beach Barber Tract resident who agreed that there should be a way to collectively mourn losses suffered during and because of the pandemic.

“It occurred to me that our community is lacking an avenue to express our grief collectively,” Dadswell said. “I believe that we as a society are longing for a social connection in which we could acknowledge the pain and heartbreak of all those experiencing the loss of life and livelihood that this pandemic has brought upon us.”

Dadswell began contacting local churches to ask them to participate in a bell ringing at noon on Fridays.

“I feel this would provide a much-needed moment of pause, reflection and recognition to acknowledge all who have mourned and continue to do so,” she said.

She searched for area churches that have bells and contacted seven churches this week, receiving positive responses from most.

The bells at St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church ring out at noon Sept. 4.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, which already sounds its bells at noon Fridays and offers a monthly requiem via Zoom for anyone in mourning, is “grateful for the opportunity to continue to ring our bells at noon every Friday in solidarity with all those honoring those impacted by the coronavirus and to uphold our commitment to keep COVID-19 victims in our prayers,” according to Walter DuMelle, the church’s director of administration.

Jim Sedgwick, director of communications ministries for La Jolla Presbyterian Church, said his church is “enthusiastically participating in this show of community support and hope.” He said it would join in starting Sept. 11.

“We will proudly be ringing the steeple bells on Fridays along with our other brothers and sisters of local faith communities,” Sedgwick said. “We fully believe that the church is at its best when it’s out in the community.”

Bowman-Styles said Congregational Church of La Jolla also would ring its bells in support. Church pastor the Rev. Tim Seery did not respond to requests for comment from the Light.

The Rev. Patrick Mulcahy of Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church said that although the church’s bells already ring at noon daily, “we are pleased to join this effort to draw attention to the toll of the pandemic on so many families in their ultimate loss. The ringing of bells is a beautiful way to keep their memory in our hearts and minds.”

Dadswell said La Jolla Lutheran Church will participate and that she also contacted La Jolla United Methodist Church and St. Mary’s Chapel at The Bishop’s School but had not heard back.

The Light was unable to reach representatives of those three churches for comment.

Dadswell hopes more churches will join in. “My main purpose in this little endeavor is to acknowledge that during the time of COVID, we as individuals are not alone in our grief,” she said. “As a community, we can recognize that we and those around us are in need of love, support and understanding. Especially now.” ◆