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Southampton church bell’s resounding support for front-line workers

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  • Donald Warren, left, William Bray and Doric Dods take one-minute turns ringing the bell of the First Congregational Church of Southampton for five minutes at noon on Saturday, May 9, 2020, to honor front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Donald Warren, left, William Bray and Doric Dods check the time on their phones at the First Congregational Church of Southampton on Saturday, May 9, 2020, as they wait for the noon hour to ring the church bell for five minutes in tribute to front-line workers in the COVID-19 pandemic. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Donald Warren, left, and Doric Dods trade control of the bell rope at the First Congregational Church of Southampton as they and co-historian William Bray, seated, take one-minute turns ringing the bell for five minutes at noon on Saturday to honor front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Donald Warren, left, and William Bray set the bell rope back in its place and close the front window of the First Congregational Church of Southampton after ringing the bell of for five minutes at noon on Saturday, May 9, 2020, to honor front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 5/10/2020 6:52:06 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — The bell at the First Congregational Church of Southampton used to ring out to draw attention to fires in town. It was also rung in celebration to mark the end of World War II. Now, the more than 170-year-old bell is lifting its voice with a new purpose: To honor front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The church bell has been ringing Saturdays at noon to honor these professionals after recent decision of the church council.

“This coming Saturday will be the third Saturday,” said William Bray, co-historian for the church and a church council member, two Saturdays ago.

Bray and his longtime friend Donald Warren have been performing the task of ringing the bell. It’s rung with a heavy rope and it is not easy work. Over the five minutes that the bell is rung, the two men alternate.

“I take a minute,” Bray said. “He takes a minute.”

Bray, 80, was born and raised in Southampton. He recalls the church bell being rung at the end of World War II, although he can’t recall whether it was for VE or VJ Day. He was 5 at the time.

“It was just kind of an exciting thing going on,” Bray said. “It was a celebration that the war was over.”

Bray’s heard from people that they like the church’s tribute to front-line workers, and he related the story of a woman who cried upon hearing a recording of the bell ringing.

“It seems to have a lot of wonderful meaning for people,” he said.

Judith Miller Conlin, the church’s other co-historian, also appreciates the bell ringing.

“I think it’s wonderful what they’re doing,” she said.

The bell, the church’s second. installed on Oct. 31, 1849, Conlin said. She also related how young men in Southampton in the 1800s used to celebrate Independence Day by ringing the bell at midnight.

To put a stop to this, church elders temporarily removed the bell’s clapper. However, one of the young men then procured a hammer from a local blacksmith shop and rang the bell with it, putting dents in the bell that are visible to this day. Eventually leaders relented and gave the young folks the keys to the church to ring the bell for the Fourth of July, with a time limit.

Conlin mused that restarting that tradition might be worthwhile.

“I think it’d be fun to hear the bells,” she said, although she said this could also be done in the daytime.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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