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Jim Kenyon: The spat’s in the belfry with planned Lyme church chime

  • Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The building holding 27 horse sheds adjacent to the Lyme Congregational Church in Lyme, N.H., is in need of a new cedar shingle roof. A fundraising auction was held on Sept. 7, 2014, to raise money for the project. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) The building holding 27 horse sheds adjacent to the Lyme Congregational Church in Lyme is in need of a new cedar shingle roof. A fundraising auction was held on Sunday to raise money for the project. Valley News —Geoff Hansen



Valley News Columnist
Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Barking dogs, raucous parties and souped-up Camaros. Maybe even a crowing rooster. They could all be considered worthy reasons for neighbors to get worked up.

But church bells?

That’s not a noise nuisance I’ve heard — until now.

Some Lyme villagers are in an uproar over the Lyme Congregational Church’s proposed plan to install an electronic carillon in its belfry. The carillon could control the ringing of the church’s 19th-century cast metal bell, which currently sounds on the hour, 24/7, 365 days a year.

Alternatively, it also could play a digital “bell” sound or recorded music, such as Amazing Grace.

After recently announcing its intentions, the 200-year-old church, which sits just off the far end of Lyme’s famed common, has received an earful on the town’s listserv.

“I beg you not to do this,” Faith Catlin wrote. “We live across from the church and it just might drive us insane.”

Another villager wrote the digital carillon represents an “unwanted intrusion” into people’s daily lives. It is a “bit much when the church is so close to so many houses and other buildings,” chimed in another neighbor.

But the church has its reasons. On the belief that nothing lasts forever, there’s some concern the metal bell will eventually wear out — or to be precise, crack. (Think Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell.) Others just think a digital carillon would be a fine complement to the existing bell.

With all that in mind, Bill Murphy, a church member who is the unofficial overseer of the bell, went to the nonprofit Lyme Foundation to inquire about getting a grant for an electronic bell.

In 2017, the foundation received a gift of roughly $500,000 from the estate of longtime residents Freda and Hank Swan that’s now being used in part to “maintain or enhance the quality of life in Lyme.” Murphy, who had the OK from the church’s trustees to make the request, figured a carillon fit the criteria.

Murphy — who at age 81 is still teaching social studies at Hanover High, where he started in 1961 — doesn’t claim to be “mechanical or musically minded.” He just likes the sound of church bells.

About 20 years ago, Murphy brought back an early-20th-century Lyme tradition of ringing the Congregational Church bell to “commemorate the life” of a resident shortly after his or her death.

Murphy invites the deceased’s family to join him on the “pilgrimage” up the ladder and through the trap door to the church attic to ring the bell once for every year of the person’s life.

Even with a carillon, the “old” bell would still be capable of sounding on the hour, Nora Gould, who chairs the Lyme Congregational’s board of trustees, wrote on the listserv.

Earlier this year, the Lyme Foundation awarded the church a $17,000 grant to cover the cost of a “Verdin Supreme Touch” carillon that can “operate the ringing of your cast bells and play genuine bell melodies,” according to the company’s website.

Said Murphy, who has lived in Lyme for 50 years: “I just thought, ‘Who is going to object to a carillon?’ ”

Judging from the Lyme listserv — plenty.

Catlin, who said she’s lived near the common since 1988, told me there’s a big difference between what’s emanating from the church’s bell tower now and what a digital carillon could bring.

“We love the church bells,” she said. “They’re a wonderful presence. Our children learned to count listening to those church bells.

“We just don’t want to have recorded music take away from the dignity and purity of the bells. These are not real bells chiming out hymns.”

But the complaints run deeper than just objections to the church going digital. When it comes to clanging church bells, some people who live and work around the common prefer less, not more.

The Lyme Inn has received negative guest reviews because of the bells ringing at night, innkeeper Jack Elliott wrote on the listserv. “This affects my business and that affects the town’s revenue, from rooms and meals taxes, if people choose to stay at other quieter hotels,” he wrote.

To get a better idea of where Elliott was coming from, I stopped by the inn and also left a phone message. I didn’t hear back.

On the listserv, Elliott, who has lived in town for 20 years, wrote the “true bell, ringing on the hour, is a good thing, during daylight hours.”

Under its current setup, however, the church’s clock and 24-hour bell system work in unison. You can’t have one without the other.

One way to fix the problem — if it is a problem — is to connect the bell to an electronic carillon.

A mile or so from the town common, the First Baptist Church of Lyme has used the device for years to control its bell and play music as well.

The bell at the Lyme Center church typically tolls on the hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. or so. Before the bell rings, the carillon plays a partial piece of music for about 15 seconds.

“They are the perfect chime,” said Brooke Hagerman, who was working in her garden a few doors down from the church on Monday afternoon. “It makes the whole neighborhood more peaceful.”

Once a day, usually in the early evening, the carillon plays a bit longer. Adair Mulligan, who has lived next to the church for more than 20 years, told me the only time she objected was when the carillon banged out Frosty the Snowman.

“That seemed beneath the church to me,” she said.

But by and large, Mulligan has no complaints with the carillon or the bell. When her children were young, the bell played the role of neutral observer. As the bell tolled at the appointed hour, her kids “couldn’t argue that it wasn’t bedtime,” she said.

Maybe it’s time for Lyme to put the fuss over another church bell in town to rest as well.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.