Cooper: A tale of two bells and two churches

Cooper: A tale of two bells and two churches

July 2nd, 2011 by Clint Cooper in Life Entertainment

In the space of a few days last week, bells officially rang for the first time in a Chattanooga church and for the last time in a Marion County church.

Last Sunday, Orchard Knob Missionary Baptist Church dedicated a computerized, five-octave carillon system, which will produce the sound equivalent to 236,000 pounds of actual bells.

"The electric [carillon] systems are so efficient now they can reproduce a near perfect sound," said church treasurer and technology coordinator Edward Wood.

Although the bell from the original Orchard Knob Baptist Church - the congregation moved to its current site in 1977 - hangs in the church's steeple, it does not ring.

But Wood said dating back at least 75 years, someone manually would toll the bell to mark a death in the congregation or a significant event in the community.

"It's a real significant thing to bring back the bells," he said.

Meanwhile, in the Victoria community of Marion County, the bell that hung in Bethel United Methodist Church for 114 years was rung for the last time. The 26-inch bell, a gift to the church by England's Queen Victoria, was then removed and stored but will be displayed in a few weeks in the Marion County Coal Miners Museum in Whitwell.

"Before [we] took that bell down," said J.T. Shadrick, curator of the museum, "I got up on the steps [of the church] and asked for God's leadership and safety. I don't think it ever had been out of the church. But ... I wanted us to have the privilege of ringing that bell one more time. We rang it for five minutes, and people came from all over the community [to see what was going on]."

The property had been put up for sale by the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church. It was unclear how long it had been since services were held there.

The church was established in 1887 by Englishman John Frater, a devout man who was in charge of mining in the community of Victoria, near what it now Whitwell, according to Shadrick. Because of his ties to English royalty, a bell for the church was commissioned by Queen Victoria, he said. The No. 6 bell, according to an inscription, was made by C.S. Bell Co., a foundry in Hillsboro, Ohio.

The $11,500 bell system for Orchard Knob Baptist was created by The Verdin Co. of Cincinnati, according to Wood. It was purchased largely from money left to the church by the Ruff family, he said.

The carillon is already programmed to play some 500 hymns from a Baptist hymnal, and more can be added electronically through a musical instrument digital interface, he said. It can be controlled through the church's computer system or remotely through the Internet, he said.

It is also capable of being played through a connection to electronic keyboards, he said, but the church has no present plans to do that.

To date, Wood said, the carillon is programmed to play a hymn at 7 each evening, to play one every half hour from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays, and to toll the hour on weekdays.

Reaction so far has been good, he said, but the church isn't going to push the carillon's likely volume reach of five miles beyond the adjacent Churchville neighborhood.

The moment the dedication service ended last Sunday, Wood said, he initiated a random, 30-minute tolling of the bells. It was not unlike how the tolling of the bell in the old church must have been, he said.

"People knew something significant had happened," he said.