Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Sound of the Bell

I grew up to the sound of church bells.  Down the street from my home the big bell of Thabor Lutheran Church rang out on Sunday and throughout the week.  We heard it in the school across the street, on the playground, down at the pool and park in summer, and all over the thriving metropolis of 700 people in which I lived.  My own congregation was out of town in a cornfield off of highway 59.  Its bell sounded the call to worship across the fields and farms between Wausa and Creighton.  It also sounded the toll during the Words of Institution (at "This is My Body" and "This is the New Testament in My Blood."  It sounded seven times for each petition of the Our Father as well.

I have not had the privilege of serving a congregation with a bell (well, not yet, at least!).  In New York a family connection with Verdin made it possible to install an electronic carillon.  It was not a real bell but it gave us some of the ambiance of a bell -- sounding the hours with hymns and the services with a peal.  I do not know if it still works but it sent forth the sound of the church and the call of God into the 14 acres of woods at the edge of another small town (this one in the Catskill Mountains).

The parish I now serve has a bell -- but no place to put it.  (If you are reading this and know of a fairly straight forward and not overly expensive way to mount a cast iron bell weighing some 600 lbs, let me know!).  We are looking for a free standing location, mounted high enough to prevent "accidental" ringing, and yet low enough not to deal with the inherent structural difficulties of wind and heavy object high in the air.  Every time I pass the bell, I long to hear its sound.

At Redeemer on Rudisill in Fort Wayne, where I was consecrated a deacon in November of 1976 and where I served as occasional organist, sometime janitor, regular field worker, and faithful congregant for 6 years, there were three bells.  This positively sumptuous treasure of bells sounded its peal for worship, funerals, and for my wedding, among other occasions.  The bell ringers went by their clock and I learned the hard way that the bells won out in competition with the organ prelude.  I synchronized watches with those ringing the bells to prevent that from happening in the other times I sat at the organ console there.  It remains one of the most treasured and pleasant memories of Redeemer -- the peal of the three bells!

One blogger put it this way:  the sound of a Church bell is an icon of the voice of God. It’s blessing reaches as far as the bell is heard.  I think they got that right.  Nothing says "church" like the sound of a bell.  I know that many would say that the organ or voice is what the voice of the church sounds like but the bell is clearly the call of God, calling into the world, into the busy-ness of the day, and into the hearts of His people to come.  Come and gather around the means of His presence, the Word and the Sacraments.  Come and receive the grace purchased and won by the obedient life, life-giving death, and death-defying resurrection of our Lord Jesus.  Come, heavy laden with sins and guilt, troubles and trials, disappointment and disillusionment, sorrow and struggle, turmoil and regret... come!  Come, seeking joy that sadness cannot overcome, contentment that fills your longing, and peace that passes understanding. 

Someday soon, before I leave this place or retire, we will get that bell up on its stand that it may peal out God's call to the world... (unless the world with its sound restrictions and zoning ordinances attempts to silence the wonderful ringing tone of God calling to His people and through His people to the world...


William Weedon said...

Ah, the sound of the bell. It IS one of the things I love about St. Paul's. The congregation gathered in silence in the nave and then the bell calling them from their private devotions into the great corporate sacrifice of praise that is the Divine Service.

We ring it to announce worship. We ring it upon each child's confirmation. We ring it in joy upon marriages; we toll it (it has a side hammer) for funerals. And written around its great mouth? Allein Gott in der Höh' Sei Ehr!

Anonymous said...

Some of my happiest memories are when I was living in Germany and the only sound one heard Sunday mornings was the pealing of the bells calling the faithful to worship.

Don't know if it's still the case, I hope so, but in those days all the shops closed from Saturday afternoon until Monday, and on Sunday after church people would take leisurely strolls through the beautiful little town, up a road festooned with flowers on either side, leading to an old medieval castle and moat. What a peaceful, reflective time that was.

I still love the sound of church bells. My LCMS parish has an electric carrillon system that is used regularly every week before Divine Service.

Bill S. said...

One congregation near me still has a bell that tolls every Sunday. If the neighbors don't hear they bell, they start calling the church wondering what happened!

The congregation in town, sadly, only has a carillon. One town that I lived in back in Ohio, had a rather dilapidated church that was once something magnificent, with seven bells in their tower! The biggest bell was (of course) at the bottom and then they proceeded up to the smallest bell at the top. I often wished I could have heard all of those bells tolling on some Sunday morning.

--helen said...

Luther College, Decorah, IA, has a bell with a reputation!
It hung in the first Main building, which was everything: chapel, classrooms and dormitory, until Main burned. The bell was rescued.
Second Main also burned but the bell survived.
In my time, the bell hung on a cradle outside the gymnasium/ auditorium/chapel pending a desired bell tower, until that building burned!

Taking no chances, a subsequent senior class provided a small brick tower for the bell, in the center of the campus green, far from anything flammable.

[I should perhaps note that Luther was built on a hill outside Decorah. It was not possible to provide sufficient water to put out a large fire, and usually wind contributed to the disaster, the last of which happened in the 60's.]