The Church Bell – A Public call to Prayer – July 14, 2023

I love our church bell. I think it’s amazing that people around the world love it too.

In my short tenure here, already I have met people from all over this country and Canada making a pilgrimage to see our bell tower, and to hear it ring.

Our bell calls us at the beginning of our service to worship.  It reminds us of the mystery of the Eucharist. It gives us a time to reflect. In short, it’s a call to prayer.

A couple years ago I read a book that had a chapter on the lost importance of church bells. The author points out that modern day worship sanctuaries are built mostly for function, not beauty. These contemporary blueprints certainly don’t include a construction line item for church bells. I believe this is a cultural and spiritual loss.

In this book called “Water to Wine“ by Brian Zahnd, he says:

“The sound of Christianity is the church bell. The sound of the post-Christian secular West is the sad dearth of the church bell. The church in the West is no longer public or prayerful. We are now private. The only way we know how to be public is to be political. It’s a tragedy that the dominant expression of public Christianity in America over the past generation has been one of political partisanship. My critique of this is not a call to quietism, but a call to transcend crass political rhetoric and bring a prophetic message from elsewhere.  The church bell is a good metaphor of how the church should be public. The ringing of a church bell is a public act, but it’s not a political act. The church bell is a public call to prayer.” (pg. 72)

Two years ago, when I first read this, I had no idea I would be pastoring a church with such famous church bells. Providentially, I did find myself talking with an Episcopal priest about their bell. She was a newly installed Rector at a historic church in another city, and I asked her how often they rang their bell. She sadly replied that it doesn’t work. She said, “I’ve never heard it ring in the ten months I’ve served here”, and told me she thought there was something wrong with the pulley.

This can be a sad metaphor on how the Church as the body of Christ approaches prayer. Prayer doesn’t seem to many people, even Christians, to be a very important aspect of practical life, so we just leave it broken. “Thoughts and prayers” are often mocked in media and entertainment as a worthless response to the evils of our days like mass shootings and other tragic events.

As you may have gathered from my last article, I don’t shy away from a construction project. After talking to this Rector of ‘The Church of the Broken Bell’, I asked if I could hop on the roof and see if we could figure out what was wrong with it. She agreed. 

As it turned out, she was correct that the pulley was old and rusted.  It needed to be replaced. I came back a couple days later and replaced it just before Easter Sunday. The first time this pastor heard the bell ring was to celebrate Christ’s resurrection!

I want us at Mariners’ to consider two things as we think about our church bell and our call to prayer.

First, we are blessed to have the honor of publicly declaring times of prayer and worship to downtown Detroit. We have a responsibility and privilege to continue declaring Him to our community in ways that are not political, but prayerful. As we enter a new season of ringing the bell of Mariners’ Church, please think about how you are declaring Him Lord in your own heart. Are you taking the time to pray through liturgy and scripture so that Sunday morning’s call to corporate worship is a beautiful extension of personal worship? Are you asking God to reveal Himself and His love to you every day?

Second, let’s look at how we can expand the beauty of our worship together to our community. I want to begin this consideration by restarting our Thursday Eucharist service. Starting August 10, at 12:10 pm, let’s ring the bell again for downtown Detroit employees, visitors, and residents during the weekday! Please come yourself and invite others, as we get the word out to the surrounding businesses like GM, Blue Cross/Shield, and City Hall employees.

As God gives us grace to expand ministering to Detroit from a heart of prayer, may the words of this Scripture and prayer be on our lips:

“Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.”

(Luke 10:2 KJV)

O Gracious Father, who openest thine hand and fullest all things living with plenteousness; We beseech thee of thine infinite goodness to hear us, who now make our prayers and supplications unto thee. Remember not our sins, but thy promises of mercy.  Vouchsafe to bless the lands and multiply the harvest of the world.  Let thy breath go forth that it may renew the face of the earth.  Show thy loving-kindness, that our land may give her increase; and so fill us with good things that the poor and needy may give thanks unto thy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen (BCP, 1928, pg. 40)