A devoted 3rd generation member of the church I am serving took me for a tour of the church’s steeple clock recently. Built in 1913, our steeple was and still is the tallest point in its little town (population: 2,000). In its early days, the clock announced the important events in town to people who didn’t carry watches: the start times for Sunday School and worship, the turning of each hour, and, on the occasion of a death, the bell tolled once for every year of the life of the deceased (this last practice continues to this day).
The clock tower has 4 faces, 3 of which still work, but not without a lot of babying. In 2002, a cable inside the clockworks broke and the 900 pounds of cast iron weights took a freefall into the church’s basement, resulting in a repair job that took 3 years and cost $4,000.
My church member has taken upon himself the job of coming by the church every Tuesday to wind the clock. When daylight savings time comes, he manipulates the clockworks to jump forward or lag behind one hour. On occasion, he oils the mechanism, and he has spent hours polishing old brass gears.
It interests me that the church clock tower was, at one time, the marker of time’s passing for an entire community. Yet today, many of our churches seem to be the last ones to realize that the years are going by. As I visit churches in my region, I can often tell which decade was their “heyday” by taking note of the furniture and art on the walls. If the church parlor is decorated in burnt orange and avocado green, it’s a tip-off that they haven’t quite made it into the 21st century yet.
If your church seems to have gotten stuck in a period from the past, it’s important to remember that things weren’t always that way. At one time, the world set its watches by looking to us. We in the church were the ones who built the first community gathering places, the first hospitals and orphanages, the first libraries and schools.
Who or what has stopped your church from continuing to be on the forefront of addressing our culture’s deepest concerns?
What must we let go of in order to become the church of the clock tower again?
Here’s an interesting article about repairing church steeples and clock towers.