Behind a curtain in the sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church one will find two sets of
Schulmerich brass handbells
in big black cases lined with red velvet. The church received one set as a memorial gift from Archie Livingston and Howard Rumbaugh; and the second set was given in honor of Charles and Margaret Evans. These beloved donations initiated a handbell choir 28 years ago that is still ringing strong with a more recent expansion that added a couple of smaller ensembles.
Currently there are 21 members including conductor Sue Grady. The choir's ultimate goal, whether playing as 11 (Chancel Bells), eight (Fellowship bells), four (EmBellishment) or two ringers (D'Belles), is to ring as one.
"It's a music ministry," Grady said, used to reach people in the congregation, a beautiful form of communication.
"It's also breathing," handbell choir member Priscilla Worral said, "breath together, ring together."
Grady was the youth choir director at the First Pres when the bell choir began.
"I knew nothing about handbells," she said, "a friend said 'you should learn because this is a hoot.' I bought a book, and six to eight people came and we started to ring."
Choir members Peg Bennett and Sandy Nichols were there and said that looks like fun, we want to be part of it.
"I can't imagine my life without playing bells right now," Nichols said. "I don't ever want to stop."
Attending a regular Tuesday night practice four members of the choir, plus director Sue Grady, explained the power of bells echoing Nichols' sentiment.
"The more you know, the more you want to know," said Deb Covell, who is a newer member of the choir.
It's music, math, fellowship, craft, meditation, performance, concentration, handwork, joy and teamwork all rolled into one very spiritual exercise.
"Playing bells frees me to live my faith," Nichols said.