Miracle of the Bell that Rings Again!

Miracle of the Bell that Rings Again!

Nov 22, 2017

by Ida Gay McRoberts

Council on History

“What’s the story about that rusty old bell in the middle of the front lawn at the church? It sure is ugly. I notice it driving by all the time.”

We may become accustomed to seeing things to the point of no longer seeing what things look like to other people. In a way, they become invisible. That comment helped me see how that bell at the Seventh Day Baptist Church of Albion looked. Although we moved it from the middle of the lawn to a concrete block by the ramp, we were at a standstill since we couldn’t agree on the next step.

It is an old bell, aged more than rusted. And it had not always sat in the lawn. As the church prepared to celebrate 175 years (officially this coming year but with a party this past July), one member delved into the history of the bell. The SDB Church of Albion was formally organized in 1843 after the arrival the prior year of pioneer families who celebrated the Sabbath. But the meeting house wasn’t built or dedicated until 1861. We learned that the bell tower was not part of that structure until after 1881. The church body decided to purchase a bell and voted that Samuel Burdick be a committee to prepare a place for the bell. Note that often one person served as a committee in the early records — perhaps implying chairing the committee with others not named, or perhaps simply because one person could get the job done. Samuel Burdick was a carpenter.

The bell the church purchased had been forged in 1881 at Blymyer Manufacturing Company out of the Cincinnati Bell Foundry. It was a specific church bell size and weighed 336 pounds. It probably arrived by train and was brought from Edgerton to Albion with a farm wagon and team of horses or oxen. It was placed in the bell tower where it could be rung by a rope going around a large wooden wheel and dropping from the belfry to an upper room along a column. It was rung to call people to Sabbath

School, worship, and special holidays or celebrations. It was rung for Christmas Eve services, for weddings, and for Vacation Bible School sessions. Over the years, children growing up in the church were privileged to be bell ringers — or try to — as the rope was thick and the bell heavy! For some, it took a jump to apply all their weight to ring the bell, sometimes lifting them off the floor in the process.

Through the years, the wheel deteriorated and was replaced more than once, each time leaving it silent for a length of time before anything was done. After the last time, when the church roof was being replaced in the 1990’s, some in the congregation, believing it was a safety factor, thought to take advantage of the roofers’ equipment to bring the bell down from the tower. In the process, we learned how safe it would have been to stay in place — Mr. Burdick’s expertise was seen in the difficulty removing it — but it would have remained silent anyway.

With no plans about what to do next, it was set on the lawn. We were unsure of its age or its material. The estimate by a professional restorer seemed high. Ideas of options for an enclosure were debated. It remained silent and became “invisible” to the congregation — until preparations for the July anniversary celebration began. With patriotic bunting banners strung across the ramp railing behind it, a member unaware of the history inquired about it. He became “a committee of one” to paint it with black and gold paint. Another member looked closer into a way to ring it, and with the painter agreeing to the idea, he attached a lever to be pulled by a rope secured to the railing.

As service time approached on the day of the anniversary celebration, with the sanctuary packed, the bell was rung. There was a smile on the face of the one who had painted it. Others who knew how long it had been silent also had smiles or happy tears for that proud moment. It has been rung every week since that day.

I’d like to think of it as a miracle bell, for on that day and on many Sabbaths since, the bell has rung. Our attendance is more on many Sabbaths than prior weeks. We celebrated our cloud of witnesses who passed through our church in its 175 years, but recognize there are still believers among us today making a difference for the Church. On that day two people acted as “committees of one” to accomplish something for this church. More can be done. Glory to God, for His presence was and is still felt in this church each Sabbath day, and for God’s Church until He calls us home.

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