Posted in architecture, Uncategorized

Church bell towers soon a thing of the past

I have always loved the sound of church bells. In the olden days when I was a child, we often heard some kind of bell from towers and steeples. We even heard the organs.

No more. Not so much.

One reason is the cost. Steeples and towers and bells require a financial investment to maintain them that is often cost-prohibitive today. Additionally, there aren’t many men going into the profession of steeplejack these days.

Church steeples, aging out of fashion, meet their maker

Atop the tiny, white-columned 1842 church where Glen Likens was baptized, where he married his wife, where their children were baptized, where they still worship on Sundays, the steeple is rotting. St. Mark’s Episcopal in Wadsworth, Ohio, hasn’t dared sound the 2,000-pound bell, which has a broken carriage and patched hammer, for a year. It may not sound again — unless a congregation numbering 58 souls in a good week can come up with $30,000. 

“It’s no easy amount to raise. We absolutely considered taking it off and capping the roof, but voices within the congregation want their bell, their tower. It’s symbolic. It’s part of our church. We want it to be there for our children’s future,” says Likens, who volunteers as St. Mark’s junior warden in charge of maintenance. 

Nationwide, church steeples are taking a beating and the bell tolls for bell towers, too, as these landmarks of faith on the landscape are hard hit by economic, social and religious change. 

Steeplejacks, specialists in clambering up to build or repair the soaring structures, see weather-struck, maintenance-deprived steeples chipped, leaking, even tilting. Architects and church planners see today’s new congregations meet in retooled sports arenas or shopping malls or modern buildings designed to appeal to contemporary believers turned off by the look of old-time religion. 

Steeples may have outlived their times as signposts. People hunting for a church don’t scan the horizon, they search the Internet. Google reports searches for “churches” soar before Easter each year. 

St. Mark’s, which has no website, has never needed to tell the 22,000 people in Wadsworth where it was because, Likens says, “everyone in town knows this is the church with the bell tower.”

Caption photo below: This New England Historic church’s cupola was removed for repair and returned atop the church. It was an lengthy, expensive, and delicate process.

Here is James A. Regester writing about in the Introduction to his 1908 book The Worship of the Church of the history of church buildings.

Churches are designed they way they are for a reason.”As soon as the early Christians were at liberty to build churches according to their own mind, they took pains to make them significant of their religion. Probably at first the Christians took for the purposes of their worship such buildings as they could get, adapting them to their uses as best they might. But when they grew strong enough and independent enough to build as the heart and imagination dictated, then they showed themselves careful to make their houses of God in shape and dimension suggestive of what they believed.” These old builders were Churchmen, and made their Churchmanship and their belief felt in their work.

In this essay on The History of Church Steeples, we read about bells:

Some steeples were used to house the bronze or steel church bell, and that section of the steeple is called the belfry. This area of the steeple would have louvers to emit the sound of the bell on all sides of the steeple, with louver blades tilted downward to help keep out rain. Bells were located in steeples, as this was the highest place on the church; this height helped the sound to travel a farther distance, floating out over the community. The bells were used as a call to worship, to ring the time of day in the community, as a wedding peal, and as a solemn funeral toll to mark the passing of a cherished member. This is why you still see louvers in the midsection of modern steeples even though they may not have a tradition bronze bell. Some churches have replaced the traditional bell with the more versatile electronic carillons that can digitally recreate the sounds of cast bells, played as hymns, angelus, pealing bells and funeral tolls. The louvers also aid in ventilation of the steeple, which extends the durability of the exterior finishes.

I believe a church should look like a church, and that means a steeple and even a bell if possible. I know I’m a dwindling minority. Here is James A. Regester again writing about the history of church buildings in his 1908 book The Worship of the Church. The following about the church bells is from his chapter Symbolism of the Church Building

In the tower are the bells, and what the spire with its uplifted Cross says to us in silent eloquence these say in sound and music. 

The office of the bell in calling to prayer and holy worship was regarded in olden time with much reverence. The use of bells for the purpose of gathering people together in large numbers appears to be of Christian origin. “Large bells hung in a tower seem to have been unknown before A.D.500. They were first made in Campania in Italy, whence the Italian name campana, a bell, and campanile, a bell-tower. 

“Bells in the middle ages were sometimes dedicated to saints. They were christened with all the usual ceremonies and with much pomp; sponsors were provided, the bell was sprinkled at the font, anointed with oil, and robed in a chrisom. Superstitious as these customs would seem now, there is something fine in the simple faith which thus, in those more poetic days, consecrated to God’s service the voices which should proclaim Him far and wide over the land.” In simpler form, the custom is still frequently observed of setting apart by solemn prayer and benediction the bells which are to call men to prayer or to ring out the praises of God. 

Church bells are frequently marked by appropriate inscriptions. The following, for instance, was very common in the middle ages, all these powers being attributed to bells: 

“Funera plango, Fulgura trango, Sabbata pango,
Excito lentos, Dissipo ventos, Paco cruentos.” 

“I mourn the dead, I break the lightning, I announce the Sabbath, I excite the slothful, I disperse the winds, I appease the cruel.”

Here are a couple of campanile photos I took while in Italy

Florence, Italy bell tower
Caption photo below: Orvieto, Italy bell tower. Notice the cross atop the tower, to the left of the tower, and atop the roof of the distant building. Click to enlarge.

If you are interested in Ecclesiastical Architecture as I am, which I have written about a few times before, here is a good series from The Christian Pundit about how and why churches and their interiors look as they do.

Ecclesiastical Architecture (1) Introduction
Ecclesiastical Architecture (2) Pulpits
Ecclesiastical Architecture (3) Sacraments
Ecclesiastical Architecture (4) Baptismal Fonts
Ecclesiastical Architecture (5) Music
Ecclesiastical Architecture (6) Lighting
Ecclesiastical Architecture (7) Pews
Ecclesiastical Architecture (8) Conclusion

Enjoy!

Posted in architecture, church, encouragement, new testament, temple

Of church buildings and temples

I’m reading 1 Corinthians 6. The verses at the end of the chapter, 19-20 are as follows:

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Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

We are familiar with that passage and no doubt can quote it. In this portion of the chapter Paul is urging the sexually aware and culturally lascivious Corinthian believers to forgo sexual immorality. He said that because the Holy Spirit is inside us, and that we are living temples of Christ, when we sin sexually we make Christ complicit in it in a way that no other sin does. (1 Corinthians 6:15).

In reading my commentary by John R. Rice, he went further in explaining. His focus in this paragraph is not on the body in which the Spirit dwells, making it the temple of God, but on buildings.

What’s in a church building? If you’re an Old Testament worshiper, everything, absolutely everything. If you are a New Testament worshiper, nothing. Absolutely nothing.

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We know that God spent an inordinate amount of ink and inspiration in the Old Testament recording the specifics of the Tabernacle, and later, the Temple’s construction. We have an excellent idea of what they both looked like because of the monumental meticulousness in the OT regarding its dimensions, specifications, and adornments. Some of this information can be read in 1 Kings 5-6, 2 Chronicles 2, Exodus 38, and so on.

The Disciples looked upon the temple in Mark 13:1 and exclaimed over its majestic beauty. There is even much ink given to the construction, location, and adornments of the Temple in the Millennium Age (Ezekiel 40-41), even down to the number of cubits wide each door will be. Revelation 11:19 even mentioned God’s temple in heaven opened up and the ark of the covenant being there.

But did you ever wonder why in all the New Testament, no specificity or even reference is given over to the construction, location, adornments of any church building? None whatsoever?

Here is John R. Rice:

It is significant that not a single church building is mentioned in the New Testament. Were there any church buildings? If so, God was particularly careful that no one should revere or honor them. God does not live in church houses. Many a home where Christians pray and read God’s word and delight in His presence is more nearly a house of God than the church house. It is wrong, then, “to speak of reverence for the house of God.” We should respect the rights of other people. We should see that services are decent and in order, without confusion. We should respect the man of God. But God has no temple on earth but a human body… ~John R. Rice, The Church of God at Corinth: Commentary in 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1973

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We note that the disciples met in the Upper Room after the crucifixion (Acts 1:13, Acts 20:8). When Apollos was expounding in the synagogue, Priscilla and Aquila took him aside to explain the Way more accurately. The verse doesn’t say where they took him, just “aside.” In Acts 19:1 Paul arrived at the interior of Ephesus and found some believers there. The verses don’t say where. We know that early believers initially met in massive numbers in the outer court of the temple. (Acts 2:46). After Paul’s discipleship grew, he quit the synagogue and reasoned “in the lecture hall of Tyrannus” for two years. (Acts 19:9).

We read in Acts 11:25-26 that

And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 26and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

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Here Paul stayed a year, but again, no big deal is made of the building or place where they met. The church grew hugely, in fact this was where the followers of the Way were first called Christian, and yet…biblical silence on the building or specific location where this happened.

There were house churches. Peter stayed with Simon the Tanner in Joppa (Acts 10:6), believers were gathered at Mary’s house to pray (Acts 12:12), Lydia had a house church, (Acts 16:40), and so did Aquila and Priscilla (Romans 16:3,5; 1 Corinthians 16:19). Nympha hosted a church at her house, (Colossians 4:15). Philemon and Apphia had a house church. (Philemon 1:1-2).

We have absolutely no idea as to the size of these house churches, how regularly they gathered, what their gatherings were like.

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What we do know is that the early believers met in homes, lecture halls, the great outdoors, stadiums, synagogues, wherever they could. Even at the end of the New Testament when Jesus dictates His letters to the seven churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea they must have had a known building since presumably the letter-carrier would have known where to bring the letter. Yet we do not have any specificity of the 7 churches’ size, dimensions, adornments, etc., unlike the Old Testament’s attention to the details of the worship house.

This is because WE are the temple.

Churches today meet in rented school gymnasiums, storefronts, homes, brick buildings with steeples, clapboard structures large and small, majestic buildings, traditional edifices with bell towers, or simple square humble dwellings. It doesn’t matter what the building looks like as long as the temple of people that are gathered are holy and worshiping in spirit and in truth.

Or own church was founded in 1892 and is brick with bell tower, with solid wooden pews, hymn-holders, red carpet, tin ceilings, a pulpit and other traditional architecture. I love it. I’m comfortable there. I love the tradition and solidity of the permanent location of a place that’s immediately recognizable as “worship place.” Yet our church voted to move to a larger facility down the road which is currently a factory by day. The Youth meet there every Wednesday night, and we hold special events intermittently there as we make the transition.

The Old Testament is loud and noisy about the Tabernacle and the Temple. The New Testament is silent on church houses. The obvious variety of the structures in which they met isn’t the point. The point is that they, being the temple of God, met. And they did so continuously, joyously, even when persecution came. They gathered, prayed, baptized, learned, exhorted and proclaimed the Good News from lecture halls, homes, stadiums, hillsides, and temple courts. They met, these people who are the temple of God, they met. The building does not matter. We are His temple. This is what matters-

And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7)