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Church raising funds to repair belfry

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
The Rev. Ronald Fleming holds an original photo from when the 11 bells in the tower were donated to the First United Methodist Church in Monongahela in 1925. CHRIS BUCKLEY I TRIBUNE-REVIEW
The belfry of the First United Methodist Church in Monongahela. SUBMITTED

The bells in the belfry at the First United Methodist Church of Monongahela were silent for a couple weeks earlier this year, causing some city residents to take notice.

“People asked, ‘What's wrong with your bells?'” said the Rev. Ronald Fleming. “People missed them.”

Although the control module which operates the array of bells atop the church was repaired, parts of the belfry are deteriorating and will soon undergo a major renovation in time for the church's bicentennial this year.

The chime bells were placed into service in 1925. Originally, the bells were played with hand levers from the ringing room located in the bell tower. Later, an electric ringing action manipulated by a keyboard at the organ console was added.

In 1960, the chime keyboard was upgraded when the organ also underwent an overhaul. In 2009, the chimed timing unit was replaced with a computer operated system that plays, in addition to the Westminister Chimes, more than 100 programmed hymns, tunes and various bell peals. The console keyboard was also upgraded.

The bells chime every quarter hour between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. and play a hymn at noon.

“We try not to keep our neighbors awake,” Fleming said.

While planning for the 200th anniversary of the church, the trustees proposed polishing the bells for the celebration. But when the trustees climbed into the belfry, they determined there was significant deterioration to the tower structure.

Structural engineers, Robert Silman Associates, recommended repair of the wooden structures that support the bells and the roof replacement of the roof; and repair of masonry and brick work. No work is needed on the actual bells, only the structures that support them.

Roof above the 11 bells has thrust outward from the weight of the copper shingled roof which covers the wooden roof above the bells.

“We're one of the few churches in western Pennsylvania that have that array of bells,” Fleming said.

The largest bell weighs 7,500 pounds.

“This is a significant undertaking for the church,” Fleming said. “The church has undertaken a capital campaign to raise the funds for this project.

“The congregation has been contributing to the campaign for about a year,” Fleming said.

Fleming said the project is expected to begin shortly and be completed in time for the 200th anniversary celebration in September.

“This is a significant milestone for the church to be here 200 years and still be as vibrant as this church is,” Fleming said. “This is a very thriving church.”

There are 556 members of the First United Methodist Church. A contemporary service is held at 8:45 a.m. Sundays with a traditional service at 11 a.m.

There will be events throughout the year, culminating with a weeklong celebration Sept. 22-29. The main service will be held Sept. 22 involving the history of the church. An organ recital will be held Sept. 25. On Sept. 29, the Rev. Dr. Eric S. Park, superintendent of the Washington District of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference, will be the keynote speaker at a service.

Anyone interested can send contributions to: First United Methodist Church, 430 W. Main St., Monongahela, PA 15063. The church's website is www.fumcmon.com

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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