D2 The Bell

Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church Memorial Bell

“The Bell finds new church,” proclaimed the Peabody Times in June 1970. That month, according to the Times, “a large crane reached into the bell tower of the Park Street Church Tuesday morning and plucked out a huge 2,700 pound bronze bell.”

“Plucked out” is an interesting turn of phrase given the massive size and weight of this magnificent bell—six feet in diameter and cast in bronze by “William Blake & Co., formerly H. M. Hooper and Co., Boston,” as the bell’s inscription reads.

And it must have been with mixed emotions that the bell was removed, having been a deep-toned fixture in the Park Street Church bell tower and its surrounding community since 1887. In fact, in 1937, the Park Street Church had celebrated the 50th anniversary of the bell’s installation in grand fashion. A special event, a “Musicale Commemorating the Fiftieth Anniversary of The Bell,” took place on Sunday afternoon, December 5 at 4:00 p.m. At the time, the Rev. Howard Charles Gale was minister.

The program opened with a Recital featuring chimes and organ, followed by a Liturgy conducted by the minister and choir. The congregation then recited Sarah Proctor Joslin’s moving poem, “The Old Church Bell,” which beautifully illustrates what the sound of a church bell means to a community:

The Old Church Bell

Words by Mrs. Sarah Proctor Joslin

Dear old church bell that in the long ago,
Our fathers hung in belfry tow’r,
And clanging to and fro
Its signal rung.
Thro’ peace and war they summoned one and all
To render service true at Country’s call.

As marching years bring Annivers’ry days,
Peal forth! old bell, to mark our nation’s vict’ries
And to praise the brave who fell.
Like sent’nel true our country’s peace to guard,
In lofty tow’r long hast thou been our ward.

Oft as returns God’s sacred day of rest,
O deep-toned bell, engraven with our Saviour’s own behest
Let’s heed it well.
Ring forth to all who wander far from home;
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come, O come.”

Like Angelus in lands across the sea
Heard far and near,
The passer-by of high or low degree
Call’st thou to pray’r,
To rest from toil, repose for all who roam,
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come, O come.”

In days of yore grim truth compell’d our fear;
Stern didst thou ring,
But now in cadence sweet fall on our ear,
Glad music bring,
A gentler creed ring clear from yonder dome:
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come, O come.”

Hear, Lord, our pray’r for children yet unborn;
Still ring, old bell!
Let generations yet to come adorn
The truth we tell.
O may they bring rich fruit in God’s great day,
Like ripen’d seed ‘neath sun-shine’s soft’ning ray.

Amen.

The Commemoration followed the poem, featuring a back-and-forth musical exchange of hymns, odes, chimes, and musical selections for the organ with a “response” from the bell. The program ended with a recitation of “Forward through the Ages,” “The Eternal God is Our Refuge,” a Benediction, and “Sevenfold ‘Amen.’” Tea was then served in the Parish House to which the entire congregation was invited.

That was quite a 50th celebration for a bell! But it illustrates its importance to the congregation. So in 1970, after the Danvers and Peabody congregations had merged to form the Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church and brought the bell to its new home, some former Park Street Church parishioners would have remembered the bell’s 50th celebration and hearing it ring in Peabody.

Today, as our congregation enjoys the now-quiet company of this great, historic, Memorial Bell, we remember that it “rung thro’ times of peace and war” starting in 1887, and that in 1937 Sarah Proctor Joslin urged, “Still ring, oh bell! Let generations yet to come adorn the truth we tell.”