If you’re on the corner of North Circle and Cedar at 9:15 on a Sunday morning, you’re in for an experience. The bell of the Idyllwild Community Presbyterian Church demands the attention of all.
It peals in 12 bongs, so cleanly and so loudly you’ll think it must be an electronic bell with a huge speaker and an amplifier turned up to nine. But then you see the 3-foot-diameter bell swinging in the open, above the roofline — with an ordinary rope attached.
A quick walk around the bell end of the church one recent Sunday revealed Gerald Van Zanten pulling on a long, wooden-handled hook slipped through a loop in a rope hanging from the roof. Van Zanten has been the church bell ringer for about two years now, he said, having taken over from long-time bell ringer Ralph Reid. Since Reid was Van Zanten’s bell-ringing teacher, the student suggested that I talk with Reid directly.
Reid, 93, still a parishioner, answered a few questions. “The 12 bongs are for the 12 apostles,” he informed.
“We ring the bell at 9:15, and again at 9:25 — one to wake ’em up, and one to get ’em in,” he added with a wry smile.
As near as anyone can figure, Reid had rung the bell for about 20 years at the church. When asked how the bell could be rung so clearly and evenly, with no stuttering at the start, Reid explained. “You pull the rope down until the bell is up,” he said. “Then you let it fall.”
It was time for the 9:25 ringing, so Van Zanten suggested that Reid demonstrate, and, with a bit of hesitation, he complied. He pulled the rope downward slowly and carefully, making the bell tilt upward. The heavy clapper remained hanging straight down, and Reid was careful not to let the bell touch it. Then he let the bell fall onto the clapper and kept it swinging. Out came a peal of 12 perfectly spaced bongs. Reid then stopped the bell from swinging just as expertly.
Van Zanten clearly has mastered the art, too — his peal at 9:15 had sounded exactly like Reid’s at 9:25. Both men appeared quietly to enjoy the task.
About the bell itself, from Bob Smith — historian with the Idyllwild Area Historical Society, who also writes a regular column for the Town Crier — we learned:
“A minister by the name of E. Dow Hoffman once owned a cabin in Pine Cove, where he frequently scheduled retreats for members of his First Methodist Church of Upland. That church, which was built in 1899, originally had a bell that tolled for some 50 years before it was replaced by chimes during an expansion project. The bell thus became surplus, and to preserve it, Rev. Hoffman brought it to his Pine Cove cabin. A few years later he decided to donate it to the Idyllwild Community Church where it was installed and first rang on Palm Sunday, March 30, 1958, to celebrate the start of Easter week.”
“The only problem with the bell,” bell ringer Reid revealed, “is when it snows, the rope freezes to the roof.”