The bell inside the Cathedral Church of St. Luke on State Street rang out at noon Tuesday. A dozen people – most in their 60s or 70s or older – bowed their heads and clasped their hands in silence. Outside, walkers who breezed past noted the sound and looked up toward the church but didn’t stop.

The bell continued to ring for an uncomfortable length of time, each toll of the bell representing a victim of Sunday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas – the deadliest in modern U.S. history.

Linda Carleton reads a litany to end gun violence in the chapel at St. Luke’s Cathedral on Tuesday in Portland. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

“It is discouraging,” said Bishop Stephen Lane. “There is a feeling that nothing can happen that would motivate us as a people to change. But we want to give hope. Things are dire, but they are not hopeless.”

The Portland Episcopal church joined hundreds of others across the country in tolling its bells before Tuesday’s service – a small gesture against the gun violence that has ravaged the United States. Lane is among an informal Episcopal advocacy group, Bishops United Against Gun Violence, that formed after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut nearly five years ago.

When the bells finally went silent, the Rev. Ben Shambaugh addressed those in attendance. He asked them to remember those who died in Las Vegas and the many more who die from gun violence every day in the U.S.

He then read a prayer attributed to St. Francis.

“Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Lane then addressed the audience.

“We seem to be in a season of disaster,” the bishop said. “Events pile up on top of each other and we can barely keep up.”

But he cautioned against despair.

“Let us bend the knee and say a prayer, but then stand up and, in God’s name, try to make a difference,” he said.

Lane then called upon a woman to read a litany he had written about giving wisdom to elected leaders, thanks to first responders and healing to victims’ families. At the end of each section, the attendants read a refrain in unison, “Make us instruments of your peace.”

After the service, Hank and Nancy Beebe of Portland said they didn’t come to Tuesday’s service specifically to reflect about gun violence. They come every Tuesday.

Hank Beebe of Portland bows his head while bells ring at St. Luke’s Cathdral. The group Bishops United Against Gun Violence coordinated the ringing of bells at Episcopal churches around the country Tuesday, with the bells ringing for the number of victims in the Las Vegas shootings, and one more time for the perpetrator of the violence. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

The couple, both in their 90s, are the heads of a four-generation family that lives together. Hank Beebe said he doesn’t think about how the world will be for him or his wife, since their days are waning, but for their four grandchildren, who are all 7 or younger.

“We are aware that they are at-risk always,” he said. “In school, or on trips, there is always a chance. Risk seems to be a part of our way of life.”

Does he feel despair? “I have nightmares,” he said. “But at the same time, we have a faith and that holds us.”

Beebe said he has less faith in policymakers. He said he doesn’t understand how the gun lobby has grown powerful enough to essentially quash any rational debate about gun control.

Nancy Beebe, who, like her husband, has lived through World War II and the civil rights movement and Vietnam, said she hopes the country will come through times of trouble as it has many times before.

“It’s unfortunate to me that people go all the way to either side,” she said, referring to the sharp divide between gun supporters and those who wish to impose some restrictions on gun ownership. “There is sanity in the middle. Surely, we can work toward that.”

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