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Monongahela church doubles up on celebration

| Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, 6:56 p.m.
The First United Methodist Church in Monongahela church recently rededicated its bell tower after a $450,000 refurbishing project — funded entirely by the congregation — that spanned four years.
The First United Methodist Church in Monongahela church recently rededicated its bell tower after a $450,000 refurbishing project — funded entirely by the congregation — that spanned four years.

On the Rev. Alan Morrison's first day as pastor of the First United Methodist Church, the church community came out in large numbers to celebrate.

On the final day of November, the Monongahela church marked the rededication of its bell tower, the culmination of a $450,000 project — funded entirely by the congregation — that spanned four years.

Placed into service in 1925, the chime bells were played with hand levers from the ringing room located in the bell tower.

The system has evolved over the years. By 2009, the chimed timing unit was replaced with a computer-operated system that plays “Westminster Chimes” as well as more than 100 programmed hymns, tunes and various bell peals.

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

It was during the planning for the bicentennial celebration that the church trustees decided to have the bells polished. But when the church leaders ascended the belfry, they learned that the tower structure had deteriorated significantly over the years.

The wooden structures that support the bells required repair. In addition, the roof had to be replaced and repairs were made to the masonry and brick work. No work was needed on the bells, only the structures that support them During the rededication ceremony, the church trustees gave a presentation on the last four years of the bell tower project, including photos before and after. Liturgy and prayer for the rededication of the bell tower was held.

Morrison took over for the Rev. Ronald Fleming, who retired.

Originally from Waterford, near Erie, Morrison most recently spent the past 8½ years in Nashville, Tenn., on the denominational staff for the United Methodist Church.

Morrison's wife, Lois, is a United Church of Christ pastor, working in hospital chaplaincy in Tennessee. She will be joining her husband, who is currently living in the parsonage on Fourth Street in Monongahela, at the end of January. Morrison's son, Ron, is on the maintenance staff for the St. Barnabas Health System.

Previously, Morrison served as a pastor for 15 years in various parishes across the greater Pittsburgh area, including 5½ years in Homestead and six years in Pitcairn.

“I arrived here already knowing how to say Monongahela and how to spell it,” Morrison said with a smile.

This summer, Morrison felt it was a good time for him to get back into ministerial duty. At that time, Fleming announced his intent to retire at the end of November. Both Morrison and the bishop felt it was a good match because he served in southwestern Pennsylvania for many years previously. Morrison first came to Monongahela in October to meet the parish relations committee.

“I grew up in a farming community about the same size as Monongahela,” Morrison said. “The work ethic was the same.”

Having marked its 200th anniversary, the church is looking toward the next 200 years, Morrison said.

“I think we continually look at how we can be best present in the community,” Morrison said.

He said historically the church is central to the community, both spiritually and socially.

The bell tower project was a central point of focus for the community. Morrison said some residents of the senior towers said they were sad to see the scaffolding come down because they enjoyed seeing the project develop and the workers.

Jim Sykes of West Newton, who played music at the church a few years ago, returned to do a organ/piano recital during the rededication ceremonies. He also played the chimes.

Some people from the community who were not a part of the congregation came just because they wanted hear the music and see the bells.

Morrison said the project opens the door for some curiosity about the church.

“It has the potential to open up the church to new folks,” Morrison said. “Typically, people come at the invitation of others. Church involvement tends to be connected to relationships.”

One example of how the church is seeking to meet the needs of the community is the youth night held each Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The night starts with dinner then time for Bible study. It is open to all youth. Youth night routinely attracts 50 youth from across the community, not just the parish.

“The bell tower project reminds the community we're still here, especially with the lights on the bell tower,” Morrison said. “At the same time, the church needs to be more than just a physical presence. It needs to be the presence of the people. There are people in this community that have needs.”

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

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