Historic Portland church celebrates return of bell and steeple

Posted at 9:23 PM, Oct 21, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-21 21:23:14-04

PORTLAND, Mich. – The church community is celebrating the return of a bell and steeple at a historic church Tuesday. They were taken down a year ago due to safety concerns and liability issues.

The First Congregational Church is the oldest church building in Portland, and the community can’t wait to hear this very special bell ring once again. The 1,500-pound bell has rung for more than a century and was cast in iron in 1906 in Troy, NY.  It has marked special occasions and solemn ceremonies from weddings to civil war soldiers being carried to their final resting place.

First Congregational Church Pastor Marilyn Danielson said the church will be able to keep ringing the bell well into the future.

“And this is nothing short of amazing,” said Danielson. “Most of all, you see God’s hand in this, because we didn’t have the finances to do it.”

Church officials say the church has been struggling financially, and they’re losing more and more of their congregation. But they believe the new bell and steeple is bringing hope.

“But I’ll tell you, this project has really brought this community together,” said Tom Huggler, chairman of the board of trustees at First Congregational Church.

The old bell and steeple were so unstable that they would sway from side to side, causing serious safety concerns. After raising $140,000 through church members reaching deep into their pocket and other donations, the church has managed to put the bell and a brand new steeple back where they belong.

“Some communities see the bells as aggravating, but not in Portland,” said Huggler. “I think they love to hear the church bells ringing.”

First Congregational held a contest to guess the bell’s weight and to win the honor of ringing ring the bell for the upcoming ceremony on Nov. 9.

A 99-year-old woman named Dorothy Goodman won: She was off by only one pound. Unfortunately, Dorothy passed away just a few weeks after winning, missing the bell ringing ceremony and her 100th birthday by a couple of months.

“And she came up to me and mentioned, ‘I hope I live long enough to ring the bell,’” said Danielson.

So Dorothy’s best friend, Beverly Dudeck, will be taking her place in the bell ringing ceremony.

“I wish Dorothy was here to do it,” said Dudeck. “I loved her to death.”

Pastor Danielson believes the bell and steeple stand for joy, peace and hope.