CHEYENNE – The bell at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church is particularly well-traveled for an 800-some pound instrument.
When the church was built in August 1868 – the first church edifice in Wyoming, as described by the plaque out front – it was common for previously established churches to give something to new houses of worship.
The Rev. Rick Veit, the church’s rector, said the new St. Mark’s was gifted its bell by St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, and it likely made the more than 1,700-mile trip to Cheyenne by train. The church didn’t have a tower at the time, and it wasn’t until the early 1900s, when one was built, that the bell had a permanent home – until recently, that is.
Veit said several new bells were added to the tower many years after the installation of the first, and those modern bells are operated from a keyboard inside the church. The historic bell remains the only one that must be manually rung, so for inaccessibility reasons, it was permanently removed from the tower in 2017.
It took a whole day, several rolling pipes, a ramp and a crane to get the bell out of the tower, and that was the last day it was rung – until it was reinstalled outside the church Tuesday.
Standing in what will soon be the church’s new garden, Veit rang the bell mid-sentence, realizing it hadn’t been struck in at least two years.
“I think it’s symbolic,” Veit said of the bell’s ring. “Churches built towers to give glory to God, to reach up to the heavens. You ring their bells so you know God is alive, that love is in the air and that there is hope in the world.”
The sound of the bells was once used to call people to church to not only worship, Veit added, but to gather in a community space for both religious and secular occasions. He said he believes the sound still has the ability to bring people together, even though modern churches aren’t always viewed as community spaces by the general public.
Late Monday night, Veit got a call that the church’s construction crew was ready to install the bell in its new platform. Tuesday morning, after a process that took about two hours, the bell was transported from the parishioner’s house where it was being stored and it was installed in front of the church where it can be rung whenever necessary.
Asked about the conditions of where the bell was being stored since 2017, Veit immediately smiled.
“Inside the garage, there was a fenced dog area off to the left, a Christmas tree to the right and a huge bell in the middle,” he said with a laugh, admitting the conditions were a bit comical, but the instrument was safe.
The garden and new bell platform are both part of a recent St. Mark’s capital campaign that raised nearly $900,000 and also helped fund projects such as the overhaul of the sound system in the sanctuary, restorative work on all the church’s windows and several philanthropic projects to help members of the local homeless community.
“The energy of St. Mark’s is meant to energize people to serve those in need,” Veit said. “That’s the energy given off when people hear the bell ring – they know we’re here to serve.”