Bell

A thousand years pass before your eyes, like yesterday that quickly faded away...”Psalm 90:4

The church building which I called home in my youth, was an ancient edifice in the town of Acushnet, Massachusetts. A typical white New England wooden frame with a steeple and bell, it had stood through the dark years of America’s Civil War, and survived the hurricanes of 1938 and 1960. What it couldn’t outlast was time.

I was a “walker” in my elementary school years… my old school house was just a quarter of a mile from my home and the hike there took me right past the old church. I would always pass by at a slow pace, gazing at the tall windows framed with black shutters. The huge double door at the top of the front steps was never locked and so, on occasion, on the walk home after school, I would push it open and spend a moment of solitude in one of the pews. The plaster walls seemed to speak to me in those afternoon times of quiet musings. I had a telling sense of years gone by, of people who were no longer with us. I felt a part of something larger… a member of an historical line of true believers.

On the back wall of the old church hung an ancient print of a painting featuring Jesus as a youth. For some reason I always thought the painting was an image of the Old Testament prophet Samuel, whose name the Lord called one night in the temple. I guess the Old Testament served as the framework for my thoughts, for I was sitting in the oldest place that I knew. Everything was old. Even God seemed old as I sat there in the silence, half expecting to hear my own name called, just as the boy Samuel had. To me, the church seemed as timeless as the 39 books of the Old Testament. And,not unlike the sacred Scriptures, it would always remain. It would survive. It seemed eternal.

The steeple was the first to go. The enormous bell in the belfry was more weight than the old timbers could stand, and after a particularly strong Nor’easter one winter we looked atop the old structure, only to find it listing precariously to one side. A steeplejack was summoned and after carefully looking over the damage it was determined that the tall spire should indeed, come down. Thus, the bell was taken down and placed on a patch of grass behind the old parsonage. There it sat like a silent sentry, summoning no one. Until 1976…

The nation’s Bicentennial year, celebrating our independence from British rule, arrived with much fanfare. Red, white and blue bunting hung from doorways and windows everywhere. Parades and fireworks displays were plentiful, and my hometown was no exception. A parade was planned for the 4th of July and our congregation saw an opportunity for Outreach, and perhaps a bit of fun. A flatbed truck was rented for the occasion and church folks covered it with historical tableaus depicting memorable milestones from our nation’s infancy. At the center, the old bell was secured on a wooden platform, and one of our youth dressed up like Paul Revere and rang the old bell along the parade route as if the British were indeed, coming again. The old bell certainly had its finest hour that day. I can still close my eyes and see the scene. I can hear the tolling bell.

The old church came down with a wrecking ball a few years after the loss of her steeple. I could not watch the demolition… it seemed as if life itself was crumbling. I felt a sadness I couldn’t explain. Perhaps one reason for my excessive sorrow could be uncovered in those times sitting in silent fellowship with the imagined memories of years gone by. It was as if my own life’s old testament was coming down in a heap. Memories were now to be replaced with prophecies. The new had begun, with all its uncertainties and mysteries. Going back was no option. The future was upon me.

A new facility now houses the congregants of my old home church. Its modern look appeals to a new generation. On the side lawn there sits the old bell… a monument now. It no longer rings. But, in my mind I can still hear it peal as it did one fall night in 1960 when the winds of Hurricane Donna sent it swaying. And, I can hear it aboard the Bicentennial float of 1976, ringing as if it were the very Liberty Bell itself. As for me, if I can find a place of quiet, I still wait in wonder for the Lord to call my name…