Sounds of the City

October 16, 1994

From honking horns to screeching brakes, so many of the sounds of city life grate on the ears. Church bells do not. For centuries, tolling bells have been a reminder of the passing hours and, for the faithful, calls to prayer and worship. In earlier eras, tolling bells commonly marked the great events of life -- births, marriages, deaths, national celebrations.

So it is sad to hear that St. John's-Huntingdon Episcopal Church, a Waverly parish with a long history and rich tradition, is confronting neighborhood complaints that the 11 bronze bells in its steeple are not a solace, but a nuisance. Urban churches are facing enough problems, from security concerns for members and staff to the expense of maintaining old buildings; this battle is one they could do without.

Even so, St. John's has gone to great lengths to respond to complaints, bringing in noise consultants and even an audiologist. City officials have tried to arbitrate the controversy, so far to no avail.

Surely there must be some solution short of silencing the bells. Fast-growing cyprus trees, which the church will plant next spring, may serve to mollify some of the critics by providing a natural sound-break for the tolling of the bells.

Let's hope so. Plenty of other nearby residents, including many who have grown up within sound of the bells, believe that silencing them would diminish a neighborhood already fighting too many urban ills.

We agree. Church bells are not nuisances like incessant car alarms or heavy machinery. From barking dogs to children at play, urban life serves up a rich panoply of sounds. Church bells lend beauty and dignity to the mix.

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