St. Paul’s Episcopal restores historic bell in time for Easter
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church hired a Cincinnati-based company specializing in bell repair to rebuild the housing last month of its 1875 bell which has not rung in almost a decade after the rope broke. The church at North Seventh and Juniper streets is Brainerd’s oldest church.
BRAINERD — Pam Perry knows what faith sounds like.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s bell resumed ringing after the historic bell tower was repaired March 25 in time for the church’s 10 a.m. Easter service on Sunday. The bell dates back to 1875 and was inoperable for a decade or so.
“The housing was cracked and the rope broke. The bell was OK and thank goodness it didn't fall out of the tower,” said Perry, who is head of the church council.
The Rev. Joyce Rush said, “We wanted to just get the rope replaced. Fortunately, God was with us and we didn't do that because if we had our organist, who rings the bell — the bell, which weighs in the vicinity of 900 pounds — could have fallen right on top of her.”
The Verdin Co. was hired to repair the church bell housing. The company specializes in cast bronze bells, electronic carillons, clocks, towers and organs, according to its website.
“We had to go to that kind of trouble to get this fixed … because it was expensive to fix,” Perry said of hiring the Ohio-based company.
Rush said, “The bell is the original bell from St. Paul's Episcopal Church, and we were the first church in Brainerd, so the historic value in my book is really priceless.”
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
The Verdin Co. has more than 55,000 installations in churches, universities, municipalities and businesses across the country, according to the company’s website.
“It took probably three or four months before they could fit us in their schedule,” Rush said Wednesday.
Perry said, “They had to custom rebuild the housing that the bell sits in and then what we did, instead of having a rope, we now have an electronic thing up there that moves the thing to get the bells ring, so it's actually computer-assisted … so we no longer have the rope.”
The church sanctuary was constructed in the 1930s, and has beautiful and historic stained glass windows. St. Paul’s congregation includes about 40 members, according to Perry.
“The first Episcopal service was held in 1870 in a log house in Brainerd, and the population in Brainerd was about 400 people,” Perry said. “And apparently the city of Brainerd had just started, and it was a pretty rough group.”
The 70-year-old Brainerd resident is a former Minnesota Department of Natural Resources biologist and wife of the late Ken Perry, a Brainerd lakes area science teacher.
“The bells were originally our call to service — a call to come to the church and that's how some people still think of it — but it's also just the beauty of the bell-ringing,” Perry said of the working bell. “All of our congregation members, everyone just smiles and says, ‘The bell is ringing.’”
The church sits on the corner of North Seventh and Juniper streets on the southeast corner of Gregory Park, about two blocks north of Brainerd’s historic water tower on Washington Street.
“This was a historic bell in a historic church. … We wanted to get it fixed,” Perry said of the $18,000 restoration project.
Rush said of the church bell, “We rang it right before every church service. … The yoke on the bell was disintegrating.”
Terry McCollough is no longer a member of St. Paul’s Episopal Church but the former Brainerd Dispatch publisher used to ring the bell at St. Paul’s Episcopal as an acolyte, or server, at the altar.
“We would also, as a part of our duties, ring the bell before the service,” McCollough said Wednesday, April 13.
McCollough said he was an acolyte for almost a decade, starting when he was 8 years old in 1952.
“We were so small that if we pulled down on the rope and we got the thing going … it would literally lift us up to the ceilings and later on, of course, we did it for fun,” McCollough said while chuckling. “We would hang on to it just so we could go up in the air and come down again.”
The rope to ring the church bell came down through pipes down into the back of the kitchen area, McCollough said.
“The bell was always so much fun because we got to do it on our own after we were carefully instructed on how to do it and how not to do it,” McCollough said.
The Rev. Edward G. Barrow was in charge of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church when McCollough was an acolyte and gave how-to instructions to the young boys entrusted to ring the church bell.
“Once we knew how to do it, of course, then he wouldn't come down and supervise us,” McCollough said. “We could, you know, ring away on the thing and fly up to the ceiling as much as we wanted to. … And if you did it really wrong, you could actually hit your head.”