May 8, 1922, Monday: If you had been alive on that date, you might very well have been in this picture. And if you were between the ages of 5 and 10, you were dressed in white with your parents standing behind you.
The occasion was exciting. Construction workers had erected what is known as a gin pole. It was the crane of its day, set up to hoist heavy objects to where they would rest way up above the ground. On this day, the gin pole was lifting the new bell for the new church building, to where it would rest in the belfry, high in the steeple which was still not enclosed. Once the bell was in place, workers would finish the brickwork and carpentry that makes the Village Church steeple the special sight that we can see today, 101 years later.
Weighing 2000 pounds, and nearly 4 feet across at its base, the bell is heavy, indeed. But its weight alone is not what makes it special.
After the fire in 1916, which completely destroyed the earlier church building, the leaders in Village Church planned for a new church building very carefully. They thought about what different parts of the building would cost to build, amounts that would be affordable; and asking members to donate for one part or another. Yes, there was the benefit of a fire insurance policy, but it was not enough to support the entire replacement cost.
We don’t know if the idea came from one person, or if it was inspired in a meeting of the building committee, but we do know that in Sunday School classes going on at the time, the children were asked to gather up dimes at home and to offer them to pay for casting and installing a new bronze bell, which would become the one in the picture. In the early 1920’s, one dime was not just small change – ten cents then would be worth more than $1.20 today. The children of Village Church brought in many dimes, hundreds in fact, so that the bell could be obtained in time to be lifted into the belfry.
What cannot be seen in the picture is that when the bell was cast, its surface included these words:
THE CHILDREN’S BELL
COME UNTO ME, AND FORBID THEM NOT
People everywhere respond to the sound of a ringing church bell, and even a small child is no exception. The ringing commands our attention. The children in the picture, dressed in white and watching the new bell rise to its place in the steeple, knew that its ringing would be a call to worship, an invitation for everyone, all without words, yet in a language that children themselves fully understand.
The children in Village Church gave a gift to the new sanctuary which was finally dedicated in 1923, and it remains a gift today whenever the bell rings out.
Bradford Harding, Church Historian
With assistance from Erica Broenner, The Verdin Company, Cincinnati