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Patchogue church plays its bell ringing in honor of 218,000 pandemic victims

The Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter in front of

The Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter in front of the Congregational Church of Patchogue, which was built in 1893, on Oct. 8. Credit: Linda Rosier

A church in Patchogue is playing the ringing of its bell 218,000 times to honor the victims of COVID-19 in the United States, and the pastor hopes it will become a national trend — despite threats made to him.

The Congregational Church of Patchogue started playing the tape of its bell ringing every six seconds on Sunday, and will continue until Nov. 1, said the Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter.

He said the idea grew "out of grief and a sense of powerlessness" as the number of people infected grew and a vaccine remained elusive.

Ringing a bell is a simple yet powerful way to honor the victims and bring people some inner peace, he said.

The church recorded the ringing of its 850-pound bell that is in the National Registry of Historic Places, replaying the tape on its computerized sound system. That way the church can regulate the volume, lowering it at night, for instance, so it does not disturb people trying to sleep.

Wolter said the United Church of Christ is backing his idea to take the bell-ringing national on Nov. 1. The story of his bell ringing is featured on the denomination's website.

They are calling for anyone, not just churches, to ring a bell in any manner and any number of times they want to pay respects to the COVID-19 victims, he said.

Wolter said he has received threats over the bell-ringing that were serious enough for him to contact the Suffolk County Police Department.

Suffolk police said Wednesday that Wolter contacted the precinct command staff on Friday "after he was told by an employee from the Village of Patchogue that they had received complaints from individuals about the bell ringing. One of the people opposed to the ringing made a statement that could be construed as a threat to the person/people involved in the church’s decision to ring the bell."

Police said they told Wolter that if he was threatened directly or any crime was committed against him or the church he should call 911 and file a report.

In general, Wolter said his church's congregation, staff and volunteers are strongly supportive of the bell ringing. He said it's possible some congregants oppose it, but "no one is vocal or upset or anything like that."

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