SCHENECTADY — A day designated as a National Day of Mourning and Lament for the more than 100,000 people who have died from COVID-19, the noon event at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church on Baker Avenue was combined to also honor the memory of George Floyd, who died while in Minneapolis police custody May 25.
“With the events of the past week I thought we had to do something and thought why not combine?” Rev. James Ross McDonald said during a phone interview. “We are talking about mourning on different levels but mourning all the tragedies that have happened.”
At noon, the bells of Saint Stephen’s rang six times.
“Six rings for each minute that the knee of the officer was on the man’s neck,” McDonald said. “Then the tolling began for the 100,000 that had died from COVID-19. Seven tolls, three times for 21.”
The sounds from the bell were distinct.
A ring is from a swinging bell, a sound that is traditionally meant as a time for church. A toll is a slow, steady cadence ring, called a funeral toll or to mark the passing of hours.
More than 50 people stood outside Saint Stephen’s on the lawn, sidewalk and nearby to take in the event.
Without a sermon, prayer or statement from McDonald, the event moved from the sound of the bells to organist Susan Lohnas playing five pieces inside the church, audible to the those outside through the open door and windows of Saint Stephen’s.
“I suggested it to him [Rev. McDonald] on Friday,” Lohnas said. “I said I go there and practice almost every day. I'm going to be there, how about I just go and play something?"
Her selection included three Bach chorale preludes and ended with the New World Symphony’s ‘Going Home.’
“I really wanted to play a couple hymns, but I was afraid people would start singing and they shouldn't be doing that,” Lohnas said. “I had to curb myself.”
Just one day separated from protests in the center of Schenectady, McDonald hoped to make a difference.
“This was our way of saying ‘Look, we can be peaceful, have a peaceful response even though the way we are feeling in our hearts is not unlike what has led some to violence,'” McDonald said. “We don't condone the violence, but we understand where the violence is coming from and many of those same frustrations and angers are in our hearts even though we are pretty much a white congregation.
“We have not experienced the kind of things that our black brothers and sisters have.”
Parishioners Richey and George Woodzell of Rotterdam stood arm in arm during much of the 20-minute memorial.
“We needed to do something,” 72-year-old Richey Woodzell said.
With observing social distant and all wearing masks, the COVID-19 and George Floyd memorial had a bright spot Monday.
“What struck me is that despite that we were quite a distance apart there was a spirit of community,” 75-year-old George Woodzell said. “I think that was a hope for this whole program today was to express community with the poor people who are suffering, the people in the cities who are having a miserable time and my own personal view, I feel for the police too. They are in a horrible situation.
“I got a sense today that we didn't need to be close together, physically close together.”
Reach Stan Hudy at [email protected] or @StanHudy on Twitter