We have some incredible bells within the landscape of the Lutheran Heritage Center: the beautiful historic bell at Trinity Church, and the First Church bell, cast in Spain near the same time as our country’s Liberty Bell. I also love the carillon tones from our beloved Immanuel Church in Altenburg. We have already told their stories here, so today I celebrate a recent bell accession that we are delighted to have as a part of our permanent collection. I am calling it the Bremen Bell-because of the significance of a different harbor of Bremen that ties together many of the German-American immigrants to America. It is cast of strong iron, and has a powerful, heart warming tone. It is from St. Peter’s Lutheran Church and School in Bremen, Illinois, 1849. This German-American immigrant founded congregation was the first in southern Randolph County, and the founding congregation of later churches in the region. In 1932, the congregation was dissolved due to dwindling membership. In 1940, the structure was nearly destroyed by a tornado. The bell was purchased at a fundraiser for the historic cemetery recently. And the generous donor of the bell, Randy Kaempfe, brought it to live in perpetuity at our site. We are grateful for Randy, and the regional church historian who provided us with the bell’s history. We will plan special housing for the bell in our permanent display, but since it arrived as a very special Christmas gift, we gave it a little festive decoration, and made it a part of our Christmas exhibit.
Please give me a little more time to tell you why bells mean so much to me today. I have always loved bells. Our beautiful bells on this site were chimed in unison during the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. It was an incredible experience for me to witness. You can experience it by going back to that Facebook entry.
My favorite Christmas carol is, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” When Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem in 1863, he had journeyed through a very dark period in his life. He lost his wife in a tragic fire, and his son had been severely injured in the Civil War. Hearing the bells on Christmas Day, gave Longfellow hope. I too, had my own Christmas Day bell epiphany. As you all likely know, I had a major cardiac incident that has been resolved, but I had a rough Christmas Eve fighting to survive. On Christmas Day, after a life saving arterial stent, and a multitude of prayers, I heard the bells in my neighborhood. My favorite verse of the beautiful carol immediately popped into my head:
“Do you hear the bells they’re ringing? (peace on earth)
The life the angels singing (peace on earth)
Open up your heart and hear them (peace on earth)
Peace on earth, good will…”
Happy New Year. My prayer this year is for you, our dear patrons, to know how much you mean to all of us who run your beautiful historic site 360 days a year with your ongoing support. I pray that you have wonderful ringing bells in your life this year. Bells that remind you that we are all more alike than different. It is recorded that Longfellow’s famous poem was based on Luke 2:14, so I thank you for your time this beautiful New Year’s Day, and leave you with this: