Church bells still silent

Published 8:47 pm Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Rev. Michael D. Halley, pastor at Suffolk Christian Church, looks over the equipment and manuals for his church’s carillon, which was silenced in the spring by a storm.

For folks who live or work downtown, there has been something missing lately.

Severe storms that rolled through the area in the spring caused a number of problems throughout the city, but perhaps none affected as many people as does the loss of the bells that regularly peal out the hour and play uplifting hymns from the tower at Suffolk Christian Church.

The church suffered from a number of electrical problems after the storm, including in the kitchen, the Rev. Michael D. Halley said.

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“We had several electrical problems church-wide,” he said.

It didn’t take long for church staff to realize the bells also had fallen victim to the power surge.

The “bells” at Suffolk Christian actually are not bells at all, but rather an electronic system. The main unit sits in a small room behind the pulpit. A keyboard hooked up to the system allows the “bells” to be played manually, or an automatic program chimes the hours and plays a program of hymns twice a day.

The hymn programs can be changed according to the season, such as for Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. There also is a wedding program.

The sound is created through a system of small metal plates struck by a solenoid. The sound is then greatly magnified and broadcast through the large speakers in the tower.

But the system has not worked since the storm, which Halley suspects was the culprit.

“We just kind of it put it on the storm,” he said.

Unfortunately, the company that services the electronic bell system has only one repairman for the entire East Coast. As a result, Halley has no idea when the system will be repaired.

“Hopefully, he can tell [what caused it],” Halley said. “It’s nice to get things fixed, but it’s also nice to know what was wrong with it.”

Halley said he misses hearing the reassuring sounds during the day.

“It’s just kind of nice to be serenaded by what we consider to be beautiful hymns,” he said.

He recalled the story of a woman who was encouraged in a time of need by Suffolk Christian’s bells.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the woman, like all Americans, was horrified at the news throughout the morning of terrorist attacks unfolding in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. At noon, she left her office and went outside to go to lunch.

As she stepped outside, Halley recalled, the bells were playing their noon program. The hymn the woman heard was “It Is Well With My Soul.”

“This is what we always pray for, that our neighbors will be inspired, encouraged and at times be comforted by this beautiful music,” Halley said.