Sequim residents can soon say, “I heard the bells on Christmas and Thanksgiving, too.”
The once-common Westminster Chime at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church rings once again starting at noon on Thursday, Nov. 25.
It’s been more than 18 months since the bell tower went silent after the church’s system malfunctioned.
Rev. ClayOla Gitane, rector at the church on North Fifth Ave., said she received a call at about 1 a.m. one night in March of 2020 from a 9-1-1 dispatcher asking if she was the pastor.
“It was a very old system and it started playing every hymn it knew around midnight,” she said. “It was going at least 40 minutes.”
Upon her arrival, she was greeted by a Clallam County Sheriff’s deputy and several neighbors. A deputy told her he and the group had heard “The Old Rugged Cross,” “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” and “Amazing Grace.”
“I told him I was impressed and ‘good on him’ for knowing his hymns.”
She switched it off and later learned the antiquated system was too old to repair.
Rev. Bob Rhoads, the church’s retired rector, said the electronic system was installed sometime in 1992, when the church was built. It was a gift from Dorothea Stewart in memory of her second husband after he died, church leaders said.
The system that failed in March 2020 was the third model for the church after they broke following a storm sometime in 1998 and again more than 10 years ago, Rhoads said.
Gitane said the newest system connects to a large, grounded surge protector to prevent potential shorts. It’ll sound like the previous system, too.
Starting on Thanksgiving, the bells will ring every quarter hour, on the hour from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, and at noon they’ll play a selected hymn.
Fixing the sound system was initially put on hold, Gitane said, as church members were already working to remodel the parish hall with new flooring and paint. The hall is used by dozens of groups, and its basement hosts the Sequim Warming Center coordinated by OlyCAP.
“We felt that as soon as we were done with the hall, we needed to look at the bell,” Gitane said.
However, one neighbor helped move along the bell project sooner. A few months ago, the neighbor — who asked to remain anonymous — contacted the church saying she missed the bells. She offered $5,000 towards the $11,000 estimated cost for a new system; thus, the “Bell Fund” began.
A few other sizable gifts came in, including $1,500 from another non-church member, $2,000 from a church member and several other smaller donations, Gitane said.
In conversation with the original donor, Gitane said she was told she felt the bells represented our “connection with each other and with God (and) represent ringing out for kindness and caring.”
Gitane said that the neighbors’ donations solidified for her that the chimes and music didn’t just appeal to church attendees; “It’s important for the community too,” she said.
Rhoads said when he started with the church in 1999, there was some minor backlash about the bell’s noise from a neighbor. That led to an outpouring of support from community members including a letter writing effort to local papers.
“You can hear (the bell) pretty far in the city,” Rhoads said. “People are reminded of college days, or living in a small town in Europe.
“We also ring it on special occasions like a wedding or funeral or a national holiday.”
Gitane said that connection with the community over the bell partly re-emerged through a post on Nextdoor, a neighborhood app, where many people share their love for its music.
“It was so heartwarming to hear how many people enjoyed the bells,” she said.
The sound system, an Adagio II Carillon from Verdin in Cincinnati, Ohio, took 45 days to arrive and is specifically manufactured for the church, Gitane said.
The bell system has been tested, and church leaders have remotes so the system can play music from the altar for various events and occasions.
For Thanksgiving, the generous neighbor has the first pick of the hymn to play at noon, with about 500 to pick from in the system.
“I’m delighted to have church bells,” Gitane said. “It’ll be great to have them ringing again.”
While the bells are in-house at the church, leaders say they’re about $1,500 sort of their funding goal.
If interested in helping the project, contact the church at 360-683-4862 or email@example.com.
Excess funds would go to maintenance, Gitane said.
St. Luke’s offers services in person and via Zoom at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Sundays, and 8 a.m. Wednesdays for prayer and 11 a.m. the Eucharist. For more information, visit stlukesparish.net.