I stood in the bathroom, wringing wet, when the telephone rang.
Jan, a widow from town, dialed our number. The men had rung her church's bell for the very last time, and they were lowering it from the tower, and it would never ring here again.
She needed to process the pain a bit with someone. And could I listen to a poem she had written about her old church bell? To her, that bell's familiar ring always sounded like home. Like Jesus.
I sat on the edge of the bed, and of course, I'd love to hear. She had barely begun reading when the raw emotion of it all grabbed her voice in a vice. And it wouldn't let go.
"I don't know if I can get through this whole thing," she said, apologizing through her tears.
"It's OK. It's OK," I repeated, holding a towel around me as Jan unzipped a bit of her heart over the phone.
Her poem, she said, was a love offering to a place where a piece of her faith story unfolded. She dialed my number because she figured I'd understand. Because writers do this sort of thing: We try to make sense of this wild world by putting down words like anchors.
She set her pain to rhyme, and began:
"They took the church bell down today,
To carry it away.
I heard it ring for one last time
as I turned and walked my way."
The 125-year-old bell -- which signaled the start of worship in the church where her husband used to preach -- had been sold. Yesterday, workers climbed up to the top of the bell tower, loosened the bolts and made arrangements to send the bell to buyers in Colorado.
Before they took the bell down, the men rang it one last time. Jan heard the ringing from her house, two doors down from the church. She walked to the corner to witness the dismantling of a memory.
Then, she went home and found a pen:
"There'll be no call to worship
Each Sunday morn for me
The silence speaks so loudly
My teary eyes can't see."
Jan and her church family whispered their last Amens inside that old Methodist Church in 2009. The church had been locally known for welcoming anyone in regardless of reputation, status or financial standing. From the outside looking in, all that seemed to matter to those folks was Jesus.
But membership dwindled. People got old, died, or just moved on. Young families moving in picked other churches. Two summers ago, the church closed. It was sold to a local couple who now use the church as a residence -- and who naturally don't need a church bell in the tower anymore. They sold the bell on eBay.
Jan's voice wavered through the words:
"Perhaps it will be placed
To beckon God's children to see
and welcome them to come and hear
God's call ring out for you and me."
When the ringing in the ears sounds like love,
you never want it to end.
Jan remembers how that green velvet felt when she ran her fingers along the pews. She remembers how the sanctuary looked, wearing candlelight and greenery for Christmas. She remembers who sat where, and the way folks would bow low before that sturdy communion rail. She remembers loving Jesus there.
And she remembers that bell. She read the last stanza, and a single tear slid down my cheek.
"Yes, they took the church bell down today.
It will not ring again at dawn
But somewhere that sweetest sound
will be heard throughout your town."
Related post: Amen (About the closing of the Methodist Church in town)
Poem by Jan Hamann of Inwood, Iowa. Thank you, Jan, for sharing your beautiful heart with us. I will cherish my handwritten copy of your poem. And we pray your church bell rings again one day.
"Church for sale" photo from the 2009 archives.