2012-04-19 / Church News

Groundswell Revives Pa. Church’s Beloved Chimes

By Kristin E. Holmes

WYNDMOOR, Pa. (AP) – What happened to the bells of Wyndmoor?

The sweet sounds of bells tolling from the Grace Lutheran Church bell tower had been absent for weeks. And architect Stephen Freret, a church neighbor who missed the hourly chimes, wanted to know why.

So he e-mailed Springfield Township Commissioner Jeffrey Harbison. The answer – a broken system that was too costly to repair – sparked a community-wide initiative to bring back the bells.

Within days, the effort launched by the church's neighbors would stun a small congregation that had doubted its own strength and perhaps underestimated its importance in the community.

“It’s been wonderful,” said the Rev. Carol Ficken, the church's pastor.

In December, the church's electronic chiming system that piped bell tones and music from the town's main street failed. Repairs would cost nearly as much as a new $5,000 system.

The budget was tight at Grace Lutheran, a 110-yearold church with an average attendance of 50.

The bells would have to wait. That was until Freret’s e-mail.

After receiving the architect's query, Harbison emailed Ficken, who explained the situation. Harbison then sent out an e-mail with the story of the bells as part of a newsletter he regularly sends to 600 residents. Amid the news of trash pickups, detours, and lost dogs, Harbison suggested that the community pitch in to help.

A donation for a new chime system arrived in the church’s mail the next day.

“I was astounded,” Ficken said.

Across the street, George Hasenecz also had been wondering about the lost bells. Over the years, Hasenecz has even delayed mowing his lawn so that he wouldn't interrupt the noon and 6 p.m. chimings, which also include a song.

“Willow Grove Avenue is a really busy street,” said Hasenecz, who works in commercial real estate. “Hearing the bells kind of slows things down. It’s a nice thing to hear throughout the day.”

When Hasenecz got the commissioner's e-mail, he sent a check.

Soon, more checks arrived. Within a few weeks, neighbors sent in $2,790. Harbison even got an e-mail from a resident vacationing in Spain who wrote that he'd send a check when he returned.

“ When you’re a small church, you tend to have this attitude where you wonder how much can we do because we don’t have much,” said Patrick O'Rourke, president of the church council. “The chimes say we’re here, and we didn’t realize how much that meant to the community.”

When members heard of the groundswell of support, they dug into their pockets and donated $2,500, funds that were not part of the church’s operating budget. Then, to top things off, church members Fred and Vicki Winter donated an additional $5,000.

With more than the $10,000, the church was in a quandary. The standard system from Chime Master Systems in Lancaster, Ohio, cost $5,000. The church had raised twice that amount. So, church leaders decided to upgrade and give Wyndmoor the best they could afford.

Most churches and institutions now purchase electronic systems that play digital chimes, hymns, and other music from speakers placed at the top of bell towers, said Kermit Junkert, of Schulmerich Carillons Inc. in Sellersville, an internationally known chime and bell system manufacturer.

Electronic systems are less expensive to purchase and maintain.

Few can tell the difference, Junkert said.

Grace Lutheran had been using an electronic system that played music from CDs. The new system is digital and can play several hundred songs, including “Amazing Grace” and “Ode to Joy.”

“It is a reassuring sound. It reminds you where you are in your day,” said Jeffrey Soulges, an interior designer and Freret’s partner who grew up in Wyndmoor.

Soulges and Freret were in their garden about two weeks ago when they heard the bells for the first time in months.

“It was a little chilly out and I heard them testing the volume,” Freret said. “Then, shortly after noon there were bells and hymns _ louder and clearer.”

On Saturday, Chief Francis DePaul and members of the Wyndmoor Fire Company were to contribute to the cause by using the ladder truck to help technician Brian Michaels install additional speakers in the bell tower.

The members of Grace Lutheran Church are scheduled to host a reception after services Sunday to thank members of the community for their help.

“Why did this resonate so much with the people?” Harbison wondered. “It’s not a religious thing. The bell tower plays hymns, but I suspect some people may not know that. To them it’s just pretty music.”

Perhaps, it has something to do with what Harbison described as the closeknit “village life” in Wyndmoor, a community of about 5,500 residents, Harbison said.

The bells are a symbol of that, Harbison said, “and the people just didn't want the bells to be silenced.”

Return to top