BELLS RING OUT
SOUTHMINSTER PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
(Mt. Lebanon, PA)
In great, metallic waves of sound, the bells of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Mt. Lebanon rang out Saturday for their 10th anniversary celebration.1
I missed the October 6, 2012, event. In fact, I was totally unaware of it until I read it in the newspaper the day after it occurred. However, I would have enjoyed attending.
Church bells were introduced into my life twice.
During the three years my husband Monte and I lived in Stone Mountain, Georgia, I joined my good friend Shirl in the St. Timothy United Methodist Church bell choir.
Shirl and her husband Wayne moved to Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, the same year Monte and I did. We met and became such fast friends that we considered our relationship as family. However, they moved to Stone Mountain in the late 1970s.
In 1982 Monte decided to attend Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. We located in Stone Mountain because of Shirl and Wayne, and we began attending St. Timothy United Methodist Church with them.
I’m not musical at all. However, playing the bells is a matter of being able to read the music (that I can do to a sufficient degree to participate), counting—that is, knowing on what count to ring the bell, along with a few other finesse details that don’t involve the ear. As one of the Southminster bell ringers said, It’s fun, it’s really an intellectual game,
Of course, ringing the bells at St. Timothy’s differed from the ringing of the eight bells at Southminster, which were not lying on a table but were located in the bell tower. They were all cast between 1814 and 2000 in London by the same foundry that made the Liberty Bell and Big Ben…1 The bells weren’t rung in the traditional church-bell ringing style. The particular style used at Southminster originated in England and used several people in the bell tower who swung the bells through a full 360-degree circle, creating a continuous wall of sound… Standing in a circle in the bell tower, the ringers pulled eight ropes that lead to the loft above, where the bells rest, open-side-up, attached to huge wheels. When the ropes are pulled, the wheels turn, and the bells swing and ring.
By speeding up or slowing down how fast they pulled, the ringers changed where their bell sounded in the sequence. The resulting wave of sound seemed like it’s undulating, rising and falling without a discernible tune.1
The anniversary celebration peaked Sunday afternoon, when the group attempted a “peal:” a three-hour-long cycle through all possible arrangements of the eight bells.
Which brings me to my next bell experience, which didn’t include any bell-ringing. Frank, Dan and I ascended the church tower at Wesley United Methodist Church in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, to visit its bell and to view and shoot (with photographs, not guns) the city.
Figuring that it would be dirty ascending and it would be windy and cold high up in the bell tower, so I layered my clothes. I was correct about the dirt. It came with the territory, so to speak.
We came to the bell (pictured above). It was beautiful. The rope extended from the tower down into the street-level entry to the church. I wished we could ring it, but even if we could we were so close to it that its sound might blast our ears. I’m certain that the ears of the Southminster bell ringers also rang when they completed their serenade. Besides, we weren’t authorized to ring the bell—not that any of the three of us considered that a preventative. We just didn’t know how to do so from so close to the bell.
We ascended the final ladder to bell tower’s parapet exited into a box-like structure lined with black tarpaper. The sun shining down created the atmosphere of an oven. I was definitely overdressed.I began shedding my outside layers and, for humor (as well as not wanting to carry them as I descended the tower).
“You wouldn’t,” either Dan or Curt said as I put on an impish face and raised my arm that held my jacket into a baseball-pitching style.
That was all the instigation I needed. I flipped the jacket over the parapet wall and we watched as it descended and landed by the roses in a sheltered part of the north side of the church. I continued shedding what clothes I decently could and continued tossing them onto the ground as the guys moaned and groaned.
Then we got serious and took in a view of Connellsville unlike any we’d ever seen before. It was better than seeing it from an airplane because we weren’t moving through the sky.The parapet walls were just high enough to make it difficult to shoot photographs. I had to stand on my tippy toes. Both Curt and I shook our heads as Dan sat on the edge of the parapet wall, eighty-five feet above the ground. It was the best way to take in the view, although I don’t recall if I had the nerve to do what Dan did. Here are four views of Connellsville from the bell tower parapet:
(If you live in Connellsville in the pictured area, can you find your house? If so, let me know in the comment box at the end of this post.)
Finally it came time to climb through the narrow holes and down the skimpy ladders, returning to ground level. Enroute there was a little scuffle (the link to FOR WHOM DOES THE BELL TOLL?, describing the attempted murder, is located at the end of this post in the ADDITIONAL READING list).
Yes, I would have appreciated being at Southminster Presbyterian Church to hear the bells ringing and to have had the opportunity to climb to the church’s bell tower (which was open at noon for an hour), to see the six bells that originally hung at a church in England, and were moved to Southminster between 2000 and 2002…The oldest four were cast in 1815 by the Whitechapel Foundry of London. Southminster is the only church in Western Pennsylvania with a bell tower suitable for change ringing.
However, climbing to the bell at Wesley Church was an experience most people do not have, and I lived to tell about it.
For Whom Does the Bell Toll? https://carolyncholland.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/for-whom-does-the-bell-toll/
Six-Word Stories: https://carolyncholland.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/six-word-stories/
How to Find Story Ideas: https://carolyncholland.wordpress.com/2012/07/19/how-to-find-story-ideas/