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Since the dawn of modern civilization, bells have been an intricate part of our culture. They warned us of impending doom, ushered in newlywed bliss, and aided ships safely into our harbors while simultaneously becoming a vital tool of every religion. It is no surprise churches throughout history have adopted the magical sound of the bell, including a few of our treasured churches nestled among the majestic Grand Strand.
The Origin of the Bell
Before written word, man was fascinated with sound. Chinese culture incorporated four sheets of metal fused together at each corner, with an inside clapper, to ring during their worship sessions. Egyptian priests incorporated small hand-held bells to chime during their secret rituals. The Bible mentioned the bell in the tale of Moses, who not only studied priesthood in Egypt but passed down his love for the bell to a new religion, called Christianity. It was a simple way to communicate, and it would eventually become the most influential percussion instrument in the world.
It wasn’t until the fall of the Roman Empire that European churches began to operate in public and not privately under the cloak of darkness. In 604, Pope Sabinian became the first person of rank in Christianity to publically acknowledge the use of the bell, ushering in a revival of ancient knowledge. The significance of sound from the bell was born. Monks also became dependent upon the ringing of the bell, which was their official call to prayer. These communities relied on the ringing of the bell to inform them of fire, invasion, death, bad weather and the remembrance to give thanks to a higher being. The bell literally became an early version of the Twitter and email communication we so heavily depend on today.
Blessing a Community with Sound
The First United Methodist Church has been gracing us with its beautiful bell chimes for decades. This church on Ninth Avenue North in Myrtle Beach came to fruition in the back of Myrtle Beach Farms Store in the late 1800s, making the church one of the oldest places to worship on the strand. “The Little Church,” which had the financial backing of Mr. S.B. Chapin, was erected in 1921 for a mere $1,500. The church, which sat only a few more than 100 parishioners, was required to share a community pastor, called a “Circuit Rider,” until Pastor Pierce Cook accepted a full-time position. The beloved present sanctuary was built in 1939, which led to the church expanding the building’s wings in 1968 to hold more than 1,000 church members. The iconic stained glass windows and organ pipes were donated during this reconstruction, soon to be followed by the Maas-Rowe Cathedral Chimes.
These chimes, which were donated in the memory of Ruth and Joe Ivey, have superior tone that chime with a clock, using a compact disc. The chimes, which can be heard from miles away, are amplified with sound equivalent to large bells weighing thousands of pounds. The church can program requested songs or hymns appropriate for every wedding, funeral or holiday.
The Sound of Saints
Another church that has incorporated the use of bells is St. Andrew Catholic Church, which sits on the corner of 37th Avenue North in Myrtle Beach. This church has been a beacon of light for its parishioners and visitors for more than 60 years. In the 1930s, land was purchased at 29th Avenue North and Kings Highway to build a small Catholic church that could seat around 100 people. At the time, there were only five Catholic families in the area, with two of the five living in Conway. After World War II, many Catholic families affiliated with the Army received orders to transfer to the newly reactivated army base in 1954, filling the small church rectory. In 1964, the congregation moved into a newly constructed building on 37th Avenue North to seat the hundreds of members who had joined the church. The existing rectory was moved behind the new church to its current location.
The increasing number of Catholic followers made it clear to the congregation a school was needed. In 1956, St. Andrew School was erected to serve the community. The Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy ran and operated the school, which eventually grew to teach kindergarten through eighth grade.
St. Andrew’s chimes ring every hour with extra sets at 9 a.m., 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. These extra sets, a reminder to pray, can be heard from several miles away. Their chimes, which were designed by the Verdin Company, produce a high quality sound through innovative technology. These chimes can also be programed to play any religious tune or ring at different times. The unparalleled craftsmanship has been installed in more than 50,000 institutions worldwide, including Walt Disney World.
These two churches have given locals and visitors a glimpse of the real Grand Strand, which is full of love and acceptance. They have welcomed us with their beautiful chimes and allowed us to experience true compassion through their bells that play in perfect harmony. Although technology has replaced the actual bell with electronic chimes, we can still appreciate the eloquent sounds they provide. Whether you are a Methodist, Catholic, or another denomination, you can appreciate the beauty of the bell and the lovely sound it creates.
Terry Sanders and Madeleine Elswick contributed to this article.