FREEPORT — For about 75 minutes on Sunday, Bill Gilman, Tim Whitacre and Joe Field took turns ringing the church bell at South Freeport Congregational Church, to remember those who have died from COVID-19.

The church started the bell ringing after the nation’s death toll from the coronavirus surpassed 100,000 and has continued to ring the bell for each additional 50,000 lives.

On Sunday, Gilman – the church president – Whitacre and Field rang the bell 460 times at intervals of 10 seconds, once for every thousand lives lost. Nationwide, more than 463,000 have died since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University. In Maine, 635 had died through Sunday. COVID-19 is now the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a national health policy think tank.

South Freeport Road was quiet on Sunday morning with occasional passing cars and a few pedestrians. The skies were gray, the air cold and still.

Janice Peterson, who lives nearby, had a hard time hearing the bells from her home, so she drove to the church and parked across the street.

“I thought I would spend some time listening and making prayers,” Peterson said.


Judith Blanchard, who was walking past the church, stopped to listen to the tolling bell.

“I just love hearing the bell,” she said. “But it is so sad that we hit 460,000.”

The church was rebuilt by shipbuilders in 1856 after it burned down. The bell sits high up in a tower and is operated from the ground floor by lengths of rope. Below the bell on Sunday lay a copy of John Donne’s poem “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

After the bell ringing finished, parishioner Field played taps on his trombone outside the church, then turned and played its echo.

Press Herald Staff Writer Joe Lawlor contributed to this report.

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