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All Saints Day bells ring for departed faithful and COVID-19 victims


November 3, 2020

Tom LaVenture/Daily Globe

Sean Korpela, 16, of Ironwood, rings the bells of St. Paul's Lutheran Church for five minutes on Sunday, as part of the All Saints Day bell ringing to remember the faithful of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who have passed on was expanded to include those lost to COVID-19 this year. His mother, Naomi Kauppi, read the names of nine congregation members who died in the past year from Jan. 1 through Oct. 24.


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Ironwood - The All Saints Day bell ringing to remember the faithful of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who have passed on was expanded to include those lost to COVID-19 this year and with an invitation to other faiths to participate.

"This isn't just about our individual congregations," said Bishop Katherine Finegan of the Northern Great Lakes Synod, which includes the Upper Peninsula and six northern Wisconsin counties that border Michigan. "This is about who we are as a church together and who we are as a people together and who we are as humanity together. That there is value in acknowledging the grief, naming the sorrow and honoring the dead."

All Saints Day is Nov. 1, but is celebrated on the first Sunday of November by many Lutherans as All Saints Sunday, Finegan said. In many congregations the names of the members who have died in the past year are read and often a bell is tolled for each.

"If someone is still in the first throws of grief to hear the name of a loved one read aloud can be a step toward healing," Finegan said.

In discussing this year's All Saints Sunday with pastors on Zoom, the conversation expanded from localized grieving to the entire church and nation with unacknowledged grieving amidst an ongoing pandemic, she said.

A bell ringing was arranged for Sunday 11 a.m. CST and noon EST so churches across the synod would be ringing at the same time. 

"There is such silence surrounding these deaths," Finegan said. "We have not had a national day of mourning. We have not had a moment of silence. Part of that I think is that we are still in it and are suffering this pandemic, but as communities of faith it is certainly an appropriate day to acknowledge not only the deaths in our beloved communities but also in our nation and who we are as a global community."

"It's important to note that All Saints Day in the Lutheran understanding is that we are all saints and sinners who are all capable of great good and not so good," Finegan said. This is a different understanding from the Roman Catholic tradition of the beatification and canonization process toward sainthood.

Finegan said she has yet to learn how many churches in various faiths participated in the bell ringing. There were at least 10 live-streamed bell ringing events and she will continue to share the posts as they come to her attention.

The Rev. Doug Norquist, pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Ironwood, said the All Saints Day bell ringing is significant with more than 2 million deaths worldwide and 230,000 deaths in the U.S. alone due to COVID-19.

"Every one of those people is beloved by God and made in God's image," Norquist said. "They are all important and although we can't name them all we can remember and acknowledge them and this is an opportunity to do that."

Sean Korpela, a 16-year-old high school junior in Ironwood, rang the bells for St. Paul's Lutheran Church. He is a member of the ELCA National Youth Council and the Northern Great Lakes Synod Youth Council.

"It means a lot because all of these people that we are honoring today I knew really well and they were like my second family," Korpela said. "It just means a lot to honor them."

Before the bell ringing Korpela's mother, Naomi Kauppi, read the names of nine congregation members who died in the past year. She said her son rings the bells on Sundays and that this is another way of giving service to his community and to show his love for and what he believes in and to honor those who have passed on.

"This is a great honor to be able to ring the church bell to announce our presence in the community this way," Kauppi said.

Other area ELCA churches that participated included Salem Lutheran Church in Ironwood, Sharon Lutheran Church in Bessemer and All Saints Lutheran Church in Wakefield.

Bruce Pikka, a member of All Saints Lutheran in Wakefield, was up in the balcony stairway to pull the ropes that ring the bells.

"He knows the bells," said Yvonne White, church secretary. "It's an old rope bell."

As of Monday morning it was not yet known how many churches of other faiths took part but Finegan had positive responses from Methodist and Episcopol leaders. She was pleased with how many that are known and expects there are many more that she does not know about.

Pam Davies, the organist for Faith Lutheran Church in Mercer, which is a member of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), said they also planned an All Saints Sunday bell-ringing. She said the ELCA event is a "wonderful idea."

The Rev. Keith Mullikin, pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Ironwood, said he would have participated but the church doesn't have bells. It was not possible to do something in the church as services are being held online with suspension of in-church services due to the pandemic flare up.

"It's what we're going through and we are taking the stance of following the lead of our health department, and if they recommend that schools suspend in-school attendance then we will also suspend in-person worship," Mullikin said. "There are other means to get word out via social media and the faithful can watch the Sunday services online via the church's Facebook page."


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