2010-09-16 / Church News

Philly Warns Church Over Bell-Ringing At 7 A.M.

PHILADELPHIA (AP) – A church could face daily fines after receiving a noise complaint over its 7 a.m. bellringing.

The city’s Department of Health said a neighbor complained about the earlymorning bell pealing at St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in the city’s Manayunk neighborhood. At 7 a.m., the 5,000-pound bronze casting rings 18 times in a call to prayer.

The church’s pastor, the Rev. James A. Lyons, received a warning letter from the health department last week, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The letter threatened fines of up to $700 a day if the bell is found to violate the city’s 2006 noise law.

In the letter, the city’s code enforcement officer, Roger M. Fey, said that “amplified sound and all other noise ... shall not exceed five decibels above background level measured at the property boundary of the nearest occupied residential property.’’

Earlier this year, the church got an anonymous complaint from a woman who said she lived near the church, said Rosemary Swider, the church’s business manager.

“She said the bell was disrupting her quality of life,’’ Swider said.

City Councilman Jim Kenney, calling the complaint “silly,’’ said he planned to draft legislation to exempt churches and schools from the noise ordinance, which makes exemptions for trains, aircraft and licensed fireworks displays and for animal sounds from zoos, circuses and labs.

“The whole situation is just silly,’’ Kenney said. “There should be some discretion when it comes to situations like this. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s heavy-handed, and the city doesn’t need that reputation.’’

The church has stood in the neighborhood since 1856, about a block away from a main thoroughfare packed with bars and restaurants. It serves about 1,900 families.

The clock tower that houses the bell was built in 1906. Over the years, the church has cut down the number of times the bell tolls. Until the 1960s, the bell tolled every half-hour and all through the night; in 1994, the church started shutting it off at 9 p.m.

The bell has always sounded the Catholic call to prayer known as Angelus. The Angelus bells traditionally sound 18 times at 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m., but the church delayed the first Angelus to 7 a.m. several years ago, Lyons said.

“We wanted to do the neighborly thing,’’ he said, “and give everybody a rest.’’

A broken sprocket stopped the clock and the chimes in 2007, and they remained silent until last year, when a $20,000 donation helped get it fixed.

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