Once again, the bells toll. Since the late 1940s, First United Methodist Church of Lucedale has emitted a melodious ministry with chimes daily serenading the city.
Old fashioned hymns like “Amazing Grace” and “I Come to the Garden Alone” echo for blocks and blocks, reaching various distances depending on the blow of the wind. School teachers at L.C. Hatcher Elementary, slightly less than a mile from the church, often raise their classroom windows during chime time, soothing students and offering a nonverbal Christian testimony.
The original chimes were a gift from the late Myrtle Missouri Tanner Thomas Wilder, mother of Tommy Wilder. Tommy still lives in his family’s beautiful, historic dwelling on Mill Street within easy earshot of the glorious tunes. Myrtle donated them to the church in memory of her first husband, Guy McKay Thomas (1900-1947). A brass plaque in the sanctuary vestibule recognizes the memorial and refers to them as “MAAS Cathedral Chimes.”
Tommy estimates that gift occurred in late 1947 or in 1948. He believes it would have been before 1951 as that year she married his father, Thomas Arthur (T.A.) Wilder. Although the exact date is unknown, Tommy remembers the dearness of the chime’s sounds as all his mother’s life, she continued advocating for the chimes to stay maintained and to play even after she had married his father.
About 8 to 10 years ago, the chimes became more and more difficult to keep operational. They finally were silenced, deemed unusable much to the disappointment of church members and of community members who had grown accustomed to the sound. Thankfully, an anonymous church member donated funds to purchase a new set which was installed in the summer of 2020. Once again, the bells toll.
Three songs play three times a day on weekdays at 8 a.m., 12 noon, and 6 p.m. A very brief sound or bell tone plays at the top of each hour. Weekend soundings are slightly different to avoid disrupting church services or late sleepers. Incidentally, while neighbors who live close to the church might prefer the chimes be turned down, an abundance of townspeople and business owners frequently request the volume be increased. The church apparently walks a fine line in pacifying varying thoughts.
The new chimes and their installation cost approximately $10,000. A digital carillon player, they function through a computerized, automated system. The system offers more than one thousand songs, primarily hymns and traditional Christian music. The repertoire includes seasonal music for playing selections specific to holidays such as Christmas and Easter. It also includes tunes for the very young such as “Jesus Loves the Little Children.”
Songs and sounds are transmitted from speakers on the church’s rooftop. The original speakers sat above the formal sanctuary facing Main Street. However, after a reroofing job and the installation of the new chimes, the amplifiers can be spotted on the church’s southwestern extension.
After too many silent years, Lucedale’s signature bells once again make God’s presence known all day long thanks to the anonymous donor. For whom do the bells toll? They toll for Thee, for you, and for me.