Diocese of WNC
Raising the Bell: A Celebration of the History and Ministry of Messiah, Murphy
From the outside, the town of Murphy, NC, might look like any other quaint mountain town. Surrounded on all sides by the rolling Appalachians and home to a multitude of historic buildings and flower-lined streets, at first glance, one might believe they have stepped back in time to Murphy's conception in the 1830's. However, in the center of town, constructed of heart-of-Georgia pine and original tin roofing, stands a small white parish, Episcopal Church of the Messiah. This building and the people within it hold perhaps as much history as the town itself.
Constructed in 1897, Messiah has many years of history behind its red doors. With Episcopal missionaries occupying the area since the 1850s, the cornerstone of Messiah was laid in October 1896. For many years, Messiah faithfully served the community alongside St. Barnabus Episcopal Church, the historically black parish also located in Murphy, NC. With the construction of the four-lane highway through Cherokee County in 1976, the property of St. Barnabus was destroyed, and the two parishes merged to become the first desegregated church in Murphy. To this day, the original altar from St. Barnabus rests in the parish hall of Messiah, a reminder of the church's mission to serve all people.
It makes no difference who you are, or where you are on your faith journey; Christ died for you. We welcome you.
One only has to look up to see Messiah's large bell, resting in a cradle atop the roof of the church. The bell itself is believed to have been constructed in the 1830s, handcrafted by the Cincinnati Bell Company. Weighing in at a whopping 2,800 pounds, the bell has stood the test of time, resting atop of Messiah since its creation in 1897.
"It goes all the way back to the conception of Messiah in meeting houses, or in the sheriff's house during the Civil War," said Ray Bennet, Senior Warden at Messiah. "Our building was constructed in 1897, and that is when we believe that bell and steeple were actually built atop the church, and it had never been touched in all those years."
To accommodate the massive weight of the bell, the original builders of Messiah constructed a wooden cradle, situated in the steeple of the church, for the bell to rest. However, due to the age and position of the cradle, the congregation of Messiah had had their reservations about ringing the bell for a number of years. Finally, while repairing the roof of the parish in early 2019, their suspicions were confirmed.
"When the guys were up there putting on the roof they looked at the steeple and said, '"You've got a problem, the wood is rotted and the bell is tilted,' so we sure were glad we hadn't been ringing it!" said Bennet. "So for three years the bell was silent, and we had the rope tied up where no one could reach it."
The community and leaders of Messiah began to make a plan to have the bell replaced. Concerned about the cost and large-scale nature of the project, they got in touch with Stan, a contractor who had worked on many projects for Messiah throughout the years. Stan agreed to the task, and the beginning stages of 'raising the bell' began.
"Stan knew every nook and cranny in our church!" Bennet said. "He agreed to replace the steeple and have the bell repurposed. So they refurbished the bell, took it out to the foundry and sandblasted it, and that's when they discovered that it was made back in Cincinnati. So it was probably railroaded in here and put up there when the church was built."
Upon further investigation, Stan determined that only the cradle needed repairing. The wheel, constructed our of redwood, and base, constructed of cyprus, were still in as excellent shape as they were at their creation in 1897.
"It's unbelievable, the workmanship," Bennet said. "As Stan says, 'The bell will outlive all of us now!'"
The actual raising of the bell was an all-day affair. Bennet recalls walking out of the building and seeing the bell on the ground, and remembers being shocked by the sheer size of it. In order to place the bell back again atop the steeple, a large crane had to be used alongside a multitude of workers.
With the bell finally replaced in its rightful spot, the congregation of Messiah could once again ring the resounding sounds of joy through the town of Murphy. Though the bell acts as a physical reminder of the goodness of God's love for all of us, the congregation of Messiah is dedicated to living out this message in all that they do. From their involvement with feeding ministries to their dedication to supporting veterans, the congregation at Messiah is deeply rooted in serving the surrounding community. This year, with the impact of the coronavirus leading to less in-person worship, the congregation is excited to find themselves ahead of budget and thus explore more opportunities to serve.
"We are very active in the community food bank, the ministerial association, and supporting veterans of the community"Bennet said. "This year we're going $200 dollars to help pay for fuel to help take veterans to Asheville to go to the VA Hospital. We're also giving away three $200 gift cards to the association for whoever needs it."
Even though 2020 has changed the way the congregation at Messiah used to worship, the sense of community and spirit deep-rooted in the fabric of the parish has continued to hold the community together in service and love. The bell, once again resting atop the steeple and overlooking the bustling town, is just another reminder that God's love withstands all hardships, that it has and will exist for much longer than we can even imagine.
To learn more and watch some behind the scenes footage of the raising of the bell, check out this video:
Learn more about the history and ministry of Messiah, Murphy at http://www.messiahmurphy.com/