In a dutch oven or large soup pot cook the bacon over medium high heat until browned and crisp.
Remove from the pot and set aside.
Add 1 Tablespoon butter to the pot.
Return pot to medium high heat and add the onions, celery, carrots, and red bell pepper.
Saute until vegetables are softened – about 3 minutes.
Increase heat to high and add the sherry – scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.
Cook until almost all the sherry has evaporated – about 4 minutes.
Reduce the heat to medium and sprinkle flour and thyme over the vegetables.
Stir and cook for 1 – 2 minutes.
Add the vegetable stock, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan. Increase heat to high and bring soup to a boil.
Reduce heat to medium and simmer the soup for about 4 minutes. Add the beans, bacon and the milk or half and half.
Taste and adjust seasonings.
Garnish with additional minced vegetables or fresh thyme if desired.