The Secret Life of Church Bells

Welcome to Real Life. Do you hear the bells?
“For bells are the voice of the church;
They have tones that touch and search the hearts of young and old.”
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me,” I sing out loud. Though I’m not in church. I’m walking down a street in my neighborhood. The church bell tower is ringing out a hymn as it does every evening at six. Hearing the bells takes me to my happy place.

The presence of church bells is a cool benefit of living in an old neighborhood. The church I attend meets in a newer building in the suburbs. It has a steeple sans bell tower. (Which is fine, by the way. I love my church!) But new churches don't usually have bells. Church bells seem better suited to past generations, my parents' generation. When summertime meant open windows and doors (before air conditioning closed them). Evenings on the front porch. People walked to church, the store, the ice cream parlor. And they heard the bells ringing out hymns.

I sing aloud with no fear of embarrassment because, in the heat of summer, I rarely meet another soul on the street. My cousin Martin from Slovakia just visited America for the first time. “Where are all the people?” he asked as we drove to the grocery store on a Saturday afternoon in July. Not one person was walking down a main thoroughfare.

“They’re in cars, just like us. Everyone drives here,” I explained. We're in air-conditioned cars with the windows up and the radio on. We don't hear the bells.

Maybe that’s why hearing church bells make me happy. They carry me back to the sweet simplicity of childhood. My mother never drove. We walked just about everywhere. When I hear church bells, I’m a little girl holding Momma's hand as we hurry across the street. The bells announcing service is about to begin.

As I listen to the bells, my heart swells with gratitude for my Christian heritage. I know these hymns. I’ve heard them sung before I could sing, a babe held in my mother's arms. Year after year, they've told me the old, old story of Jesus and his love.

Verse upon verse, their rich theology has laid a solid foundation of faith in my soul—
Faith of our fathers, holy faith. We will be true to thee till death.
“Faith of Our Fathers” by Frederick W. Faber, 1849

They've led me into Jesus’ open arms—
Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me.
And that Thou bid'st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

“Just as I am, Without One Plea” by Charlotte Elliott, 1835

They've emboldened me to stand firm against the enemy—
Onward Christian soldiers marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.
“Onward, Christian Soldiers” by S. Baring-Gould, 1547

They've soothed me. For though I fail my God; he never fails me—
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father; There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not, As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

“Great Is Thy Faithfulness” by Thomas Chisholm, 1925

They've accompanied me. Though I walk alone. I’m never alone—
And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.

“I Come to the Garden Alone” by C. Austin Miles, 1912

I often wonder. In this very public place, is anyone else listening? Whether they are aware of it or not. God is exalted. Darkness flees. Spiritual victories are won on the streets of my neighborhood each evening at six.

Do church bells ring in your neighborhood?

Photo credit mine, St. Stephen's Cathedral Bell Tower, Vienna, Austria; bell cast in 1711.


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