Piety Hill Musings

The ramblings of the Rector of St. John's Episcopal Church of Detroit. Piety Hill refers to the old name for our neighborhood. The neighborhood has changed a great deal in the over 160 years we have been on this corner (but not our traditional biblical theology) and it is now known for the neighboring theatres, the professional baseball and football stadiums and new hockey/basketball arena.

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Location: Detroit, Michigan, United States

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Bells at St. John's, Detroit

 When the Chapel of St. John’s opened for worship on November 17, 1859, people were welcomed with the ringing of the bell installed over the entranceway.  That bell still rings today, calling the faithful to worship.  Before and after the 10 AM Service our own Christopher Baetz is often found ringing this bell!  It is rung by pulling the rope in the entranceway of the chapel, making it swing back and forth.

 When the Church opened in 1861 the tower was also equipped with a bell.  This bell can be rung two ways.  It can be swung, and it can be tolled as well.  There are two separate ropes on the second story of the bell tower, one for each function on the same bell.  This bell gets its best workout on Thanksgiving Day as the children in attendance at the parade festivities at St. John’s take turns ringing it to greet Saint Nicholas as he passes the Church!

 A set of chimes was installed in the bell tower in 1914 in memory of Joseph Gardner Standard who died in 1912.  These were a series of tuned tubes that could be played by pulling ropes for simple hymn tunes.  At some point in the 1970s the apparatus deteriorated, and the chimes sold for scrap according to a parishioner who helped remove them from the tower at the request of the then Rector.

 An electronic carillon was installed and dedicated in 1989.  This Schulmerich system was top of the line for that era, with a digital audio tape player to play hymns.  Also programmed onto the device was the Westminster Chimes, ringing on the quarter hour.  By 2001 the digital audio tape player ceased working and parts unavailable.  In subsequent years the late Chris Sayers made it a personal mission to keep the rest of it working, replacing amplifiers and other parts as they stopped performing their functions.  In the summer of 2021 it was deemed beyond repair.

 A replacement system was installed in the summer of 2022.  The Schulmerich Bell Company was purchased by Verdin Bells, and the new device is the best of both company’s technology.  Only 10 percent the size of the previous device, the new unit has thousands of hymns and different types of bell ringing patterns stored on it, which can be programmed to play at appointed times of the day.  Currently it is programmed to ring the Westminster Chimes at the quarter hour from 7 AM to 11 PM (Noon to 11 PM on Sunday), ring the Angelus Prayer at Noon and 6 PM, and play hymns at 12:02 and 5:02 PM. 

 The tolling bell was rung for 20 minutes on September 8th when news was received of the passing the Queen Elizabeth.