The Jackson Chapel bell tolls again

Ralph Merriweather, the welder that restored the bell that has sat half immersed in the soil in front of Jackson Chapel United Methodist Church for decades, rings the bell for the first time in the living congregations' memory. PHOTO COURTESY OF MARILYN JOHNSON

Church bells have been an integral part of the life of the church and the community for centuries, according to some research, church bells date back to AD 400. In ancient times, bells were used to signify daily prayer observances in many cultural as well as serve as an alert to the local communities of impending danger by invading armies. These bells were often built in bell towers located at the top of churches, mosques or temples. It was an honor for someone to have the title of “bell ringer” for the various spiritual meeting places.

The church bell at Jackson Chapter United Methodist Church, at 524 Center St., was not located in a high tower above the church, but was stationed on a wood stand in the front of the church. There are no church records verifying the purchase of this bell or its installation. The bell has been in front of the church longer than any living members can recollect. There are church members in their 80s and they cannot remember the bell being rung, but remember its sitting on a wood stand and watching it rot and collapse on the ground over the years. One reason the bell was probably never moved, was because of it weight. The wooden stand fell and rotted, but the bell, due to its iron structure, did not deteriorate. It became crusted over with rust slowly ebbing its way in the ground through erosion of the soil surrounding it.

Church members would discuss the issue of the bell when inquiries were made from outsiders on the possibilities of removing the bell or purchasing the bell. About one year ago, a request was made for permission to loan the bell to the Calaboose African American Museum. This request was approved by the church’s administrative council with the understanding that Jackson Chapel would maintain ownership of the bell.

However, the transaction to loan the bell to the Calaboose was not accomplished before the 2017 appointment of a new pastor to Jackson Chapel, ironically named Bell, Reverend Troy Bell. When Bell saw the bell, his vision was to restore it and make it operational again — the bell would toll again to announce church service to all within hearing distance.

Ralph Merriweather, a member of Jackson Chapel and recently retired International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union organizer and welder, volunteered to take on the project. A major part of the bell restoration was to have it moved to Merriweather’s workshop. Reuben Brooks, also a church member, contacted Saucedo Towing to move the bell to the workshop for restoration. Merriweather said that the bell was made out of cast iron that had to be welded in place with T99 rods and this could be a very difficult process for someone who didn’t know what they were doing. The bell was significantly rusted and needs to be sanded down in order to paint it and a new stand had to be constructed strong enough to hold the heavy bell.

On Sunday, Dec. 10, during the 11 a.m. worship service, the restored bell was dedicated by Reverend Bell, in the presence of church attendees. At the end of the dedication services, Merriweather was asked to ring the bell three times. The community will again hear the bell toll on Sunday mornings, to let the hearers know that worship services has commenced at Jackson Chapel and an invitation for the hearers to come and praise God and become apart of a growing congregation.

San Marcos Daily Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666