Philadelphia Church Bell Ringer Remembers Americans Lost To COVID-19

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Ben Cornelius playing the bells. (Courtesy)
Ben Cornelius playing the bells. (Courtesy)

On Sunday in Philadelphia, the church bells at St. Peter's Episcopal Church rang out 400 times to recognize the more than 400,000 lives lost to COVID-19 in the U.S.

Bell ringer Ben Cornelius says after he finished his duties, he came down from the bell tower and noticed people standing around the churchyard.

“People came out and listened and were contemplative and clearly were affected by what the sound of the bells was doing and what it was bringing to mind for them,” he says. “And there were people who were crying, and you know, they were thinking of loved ones who had died.”

President-elect Joe Biden will be at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool Tuesday night to remember the many Americans who have died of COVID-19. Biden's team is also encouraging cities across the country to participate at 5:30 p.m. ET by lighting up buildings or ringing church bells.

Cornelius says he's planning to play some special tunes for the national memorial Tuesday night, such as “Amazing Grace” and “Abide With Me.”

He says sharing the music and ringing the bells is cathartic for him as well. Three of his coworkers at the Metro North Railroad in New York, where he is an essential worker, died from COVID-19.

“It's a bit of therapy for me, I'll say, to do this as well as to ring tunes on most evenings from the church as well, so honored to participate in it,” he says.

On a hopeful note, Cornelius says he got his first coronavirus vaccine shot last week and aims to get a second shot in a couple of weeks. He says he plans to continue ringing the bells at his church in remembrance as the pandemic claims more lives every day.

Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku Ray. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on January 19, 2021.


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Ashley Locke Senior Producer, Here & Now
Ashley Locke is a senior producer for Here & Now. She was formerly with Southern California Public Radio, where she started as a news intern, before moving to the Boston suburbs in 2016.



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