Sounds of the Church Bell

Wright County Journal Press

Second Section

December 19, 2013/No.15


This photo of the Stuckstede & Bro bell that hangs in Immanuel’s bell tower shows the wheel on the right, which rocks the bell against the clapper. (Photo courtesy of Julie Gutknecht)


Sounds of the church bell

Tolling traditions from the past brought back at Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church

By Julie Gutknecht

You may have heard church bells to mark the start of a church service or during a funeral, but what about other times? There is etiquette for ringing bells, and there are also traditions.

Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church of rural Buffalo has brought back one of those bell traditions. You may have already heard the bell around 10:15 on Sunday Mornings.

“I don’t really recall why we stopped, but we had rung the bell during the Lord’s Prayer for years” said Albert Nowack, a lifelong member of Immanuel. “Henry Ordorff used to be the one to toll the bell from our choir loft. He would ring the bell when we started the Lord’s Prayer, then when we started the line, Give us this day our daily bread, and then at the Amen. I was just a boy, but I remember it. Reynold Hanke taught me the proper way to toll the bell (for funerals) with five or six seconds between each toll.”


Albert Nowack rings the toll bell at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer, at the fourth petition and also at the Amen.

 Since 1928 in the tower

The bell he was referring to has been in Immanuel’s bell tower since the building’s construction and dedication in 1928, having been moved from their original 1891 wood church.

August Bruska, another life-long member, recalls making the climb into the bell tower for routine maintenance.

“Sparrows seem to love bell towers,” he said, chuckling at how much those birds had to work bringing in mounds of nesting materials which the cleaning grew gathered up and threw out.


Stuckstede & Bro

Bruska said they thought for a time the bell was a Studebaker, but on closer inspection, the imprinting and church paperwork identified it as a Stuckstede & Bro copper/tin bell, which was purchased in 1901 from the Missouri foundry at a cost of $135.25.

The bell measures about 2 feet high and the bottom outside diameter is 16 inches. A large pulley on one side of the bell rocks the bell, bringing it in contact with the clapper for the normal ding-dong peal. Alternately, for a more controlled, slow chime or toll of the bell, a hammer on the opposite side strikes the inside of the bell.


Medieval monks

We’re all familiar with announcing the start of the church service with the ringing of the bell or during funerals, but Immanuel’s chief organist, Karen Davis, wanted to see what she could find about the uses of the bell during the service. Immanuel is a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and so one of her queries led her to the synod office in Wisconsin. They related some of the bell-ringing traditions back to medieval monks, who rang the bell three times during the Lord’s Prayer as an aid to devotion for the people who lived within earshot of the monastery. The middle toll served as a guide to keep pace with the congregation.

Germanic Roots

The Buffalo area has strong Germanic roots and Davis also learned those ancestors brought the church bell traditions with them. While conservative Christians tended to keep Sunday as a day of worship and avoid hard labor, farmers at times had to be out in the fields. The ringing of the bell during the Lord’s Prayer allowed them to pause and pray with (and be in fellowship with) their church family.

“What a beautiful way to join in spirit with us in church,” Davis said.


Christmas Eve service

“I’m thrilled Karen pursued bringing back this tradition,” Pastor Stephen Smith said.” Everyone is welcome to join us for any of our services, but now everyone who even hears those three tolls of our bell will recognize it as our call to prayer and the Savior who taught us that prayer.”

He said even the congregations children are getting involved and have incorporated the three tolls during the Lord’s Prayer as part of their special children’s service on Christmas Eve (7 p.m.).

“Their theme this year is From Everlasting to Everlasting: The Story of the Christmas Wreaths.”

Call to prayer

Immanuel is located 4 miles east of Buffalo on County Road 35. Details about the congregation and scheduled events may be found on their website

Listeners and passers-by will continue to hear Immanuel’s bell to announce the start of services and also the slow toll during funerals, but now the call to prayer will also be heard, those three tolls of the bells hammer during the Lord’s Prayer.


On the left side of the bell, you can see the hammer used for tolling. The hammer strikes the side of the bell.

(Julie Gutknecht formerly wrote for the Maple Lake Messenger and provided this story and photos on behalf of her church)