Support wanted for Emmanuel Parish COVID-19 memorial | Coronavirus

Teresa McMinn

CUMBERLAND — With the ashes of her late husband in an urn on the dining room table, Marsha Bell longed for a way to honor the man she loved and lost to COVID-19.

Cecil George Bell Jr., 73, died Nov. 25.

Because the virus threatened lives and halted large gatherings, his wife could not hold a memorial service in their hometown of Sweeny, Texas, with the many people she wanted to include.

So she and Emmanuel Parish Rev. Martha Macgill hosted a small and private service of repose at Emmanuel Parish to honor Cecil Bell’s memory.

His ashes will rest in Emmanuel’s Chapel of the Resurrection “until I am able to have a memorial service in the way that I want to and include all the people that can come,” Bell said in an earlier interview.

Today, as the virus has killed nearly a half-million people across the U.S., Bell, a priest associate at Emmanuel, hopes a local pandemic memorial on the church grounds will comfort people and allow them to celebrate memories of their loved ones.

“This memorial is for the entire community including those dear to them who have experienced painful, untimely losses,” she recently said via email.

She and Macgill hope to gain support for the memorial, which they say would include a flame of hope and everlasting light on the hilltop, memorial garden and book of names to be read each Sunday at virtual services beginning next month.

“I feel this memorial would serve the purpose of providing a specific location of recognition, honor and memory for not only family and friends, but any (people) in the county or even visitors, who really have no such place … that also serves as a place of hope,” Bell said. “I was inspired by my personal need and my feeling of being stymied in my grief process and ability to bring honor to my husband after his tragic death.”

Throughout the pandemic, families couldn’t have traditional gatherings, funerals and memorials as they would have wanted, Bell said.

“These circumstances have left them in a kind of grieving limbo,” she said. “I believe that a public memorial location has proven important to people to visit and remember victims.”

Macgill said she and Bell wanted a way to “mark as a people of God and as a community this time” in history.

“We both discussed how Americans in particular are eager to move on from tragedy and suffering without doing the important work of naming grief,” Macgill said via email.

“Then, we began to be aware that many are affected during the pandemic and even in years before by losses not recognized,” she said. “Emmanuel has had parishioners die not of COVID during the pandemic and no service has been held. Folks have lost family members far away and can not be at the funeral or services. There are others who have lost children or pregnancies or family members to suicide who were not able at the time to fully honor their lives.”

The memorial garden project would provide a place for community members to bring their unresolved grief and honor lost lives, she said.

Macgill said a Bedford, Pennsylvania, firm is working with Emmanuel’s Pandemic Memorial Committee and other church officials to find the best design for the flames and gardens on the hilltop.

“We are also consulting with local funeral directors on community needs,” she said.

“We are inviting members of the community to submit names for the Book of Names free of charge,” Macgill said.

“The Memorial Gardens will have opportunities for engraved bricks and stones (for) $50 apiece,” she said. “The eternal flame will be a community project and donations will be received once the flame design is approved and costed.”

Other items such as plantings and benches will also be available for purchase, and volunteers are needed to help with the project.

“Emmanuel hopes that we will not be silent about our grief and struggles in this historic time, but speak (of) our loss and our suffering and then turn to hope and light in the days to come,” Macgill said.

For more, call 301-777-3364, email or

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