Before the start of each Sunday morning sanctuary service, and at other special sanctuary services one hears the sound of bells - three large, cast bells located in Immanuel’s steeple. There are three, but the original plan was for only two. A summary of the bell history (thanks Bob Sandfort!) notes:
During the planning for the new sanctuary, two bells and one clock face were initially specified. The Voters Assembly re-addressed that decision at a November 29, 1866 meeting. The Assembly asked the architect, to redesign for three bells, rather than two; and four clock faces in the steeple rather than one.
A contract was signed with the H. W. Rincker Bell Foundry of Sigel, Shelby County, Illinois, in late November of 1866 for the three bells. This contract called for the casting of a set of three bells of different sizes not to exceed the cost of $2,000. The agreement specified that the bells would have the name of the bell foundry and the name of the congregation cast into the side of the bells. In addition, the large bell was to have the title of the famous Martin Luther hymn, “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” (A Mighty Fortress is our God) and a depiction of a fortress cast into it as well. After some delay, the bells were delivered and installed in May 1868 (with the “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” inscription, but no fortress depiction).
The largest bell is 42" in diameter (the outside diameter of the mouth of the bell) and weighs approximately 1300 pounds, the medium bell is 32" in diameter weighing approximately 700 pounds, and the smallest is 24" in diameter and approximately 350 pounds. Estimated value replacement cost today is $35,000, $10,000, and $5,000 respectively. This cost is just the cost of the bronze bell, and does not include the cost of bell ringing equipment, required bell hardware or installation (I suspect that removing and replacing a 1300 pound bell located high in a steeple would not be inexpensive!). While the bells were cast by the H. W. Rincker Bell Foundry, supporting pieces; the a-frame, yoke, and headpiece, were cast by the Henry Stuckstede Bell Foundry of St. Louis.
There are a surprising number of moving parts involved in an operating bell. In addition to the bell itself one must include – the a-frame, yoke, headpiece, isolator, pillow block bearing, clapper, clapper pin, clapper spring, bell wheel, plus many sizeable bolts. These are heavy, moving pieces. Heavy, oak timbers support the bell’s weight.
Our bells, have served us faithfully for many, many years - 153 years to be exact. However, after 153 years, some care and maintenance is definitely due. A recent trek up the steeple for bell inspection showed issues needing attention. Parts are worn and in need of replacement. Fasteners are rusting and loose in places. A good cleaning is in order. Parts need alignment. All to maintain proper operation, proper tone, and to keep the bells from damage.
We have contracted the Verdin Bell Company to perform this necessary maintenance. Cast church bell parts are not off-the-shelf items. The Verdin Company is fabricating replacement parts. In the next few months, when replacement parts are fabricated, they will replace the worn parts, clean, adjust and service all other moving parts. With this proper attention, our bells will ring out for at least another 153 years.
If you are interested in learning more, request a copy of the bell history document from the Church Office and/or visit the Verdin Bell Company website: