Echoes of the past ring out at Mattituck church as revived bell chimes again

At 10:50 a.m. Easter Sunday, something that hadn’t happened since 2019 broke the silence inside Church of the Redeemer in Mattituck.

The church bell in the tower began to ring. It rang seven times, paused, then tolled three more times. The ringing was the call to prayer, a practice that dates to the church’s origins in the early 1870s.

“It was wonderful to hear,” said Stuart Whalen, a member of the church vestry — akin to a board of directors — who said it instilled in him a feeling of faith but also a connection to the generations of the Episcopal church members who had heard the bell chime as they took their seats in the pews each Sunday morning.

“As I heard it, I felt a different emotion,” he said as he sat inside the church Monday. “I felt a connection to the past, but also optimism for the future. It’s a mystical kind of connection. I suddenly felt in touch with the people who were here before.”

The story of the bell in the church tower goes back to approximately 1880, a few years after a group of Mattituck Episcopalians — some of whose names are etched into the stained-glass windows — formed a congregation.

Originally, the bell was installed in a spire at the front of the church and was free swinging, operated by a bell ringer who brought it to life by pulling on a long, knotted rope. 

By 1931, the congregation had grand plans to remodel the building. But worsening economic conditions, locally and nationally, prevented those plans from being realized. Instead, the bell was removed from the spire and stored outside the church until 1957, when a new bell tower was constructed on the west side of the building. Moving it was no easy task: The solid bronze bell weighs 600 pounds.

In many ways, a church bell is more than just a church bell. That is particularly true for this one. 

“There is a feeling expressed by many parishioners that, even though there is no reason in a modern world to ring a church bell, it is a good and proper thing to honor a rich past in which church bells rang the hours, marked funerals, celebrated weddings and announced the calls to prayer three times a day,” Mr. Whalen wrote in an email to The Suffolk Times.

At some point in the mid-1960s, the bell was automated — no longer would a ringer pull on the rope to clang its heavy clapper. This new system worked for several decades, but the moving parts eventually failed and the bell fell silent again.

A new system was installed, and the revamped bell rang out again until 2019, when COVID-19 curtailed church attendance and the bell was silenced for a third time .

Last year, vestry members explored ways to remove the bell, restore its former luster through a sandblasting process and put it back in place atop the tower. An engineer from a Baltimore foundry — the very foundry that forged the bell in 1880 — examined the bell and determined it and the support structure holding it in place were in good shape. There was no need for expensive sandblasting. 

So on April 9, at exactly 10 minutes before 11 a.m., the church bell chimed anew as parishioners inside took their seats for Easter services, and all felt right in the world. The bell rang again Monday to mark the time while Mr. Whalen gave a reporter a tour of the church. He smiled, happy to hear it chime.

“So, as you walk along Love Lane, or by the Presbyterian church and churchyard, or by the North Fork Community Theatre on Sound Avenue, surrounded by reminders of our rich Southold Township history,” Mr. Whalen wrote in his email, “listen upon the hour and in that moment you’ll hear a call reminiscent of our long past, and be optimistic about our future.”