Archived Sections, Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Just in time for Christmas

Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis is about to dedicate a new bell tower

Pealing bells, long-held faith, an eight-decades-old architectural plan, and the generosity of an anonymous donor will come together on Christmas Eve at Central Lutheran Church (ELCA), in the heart of Minneapolis.
December 24, 2005, is the date chosen to initiate Central’s $4.6 million carillon and forty-seven bronze bells, newly cast in France. Formal dedication is scheduled for Palm Sunday, April 9, 2006, the congregation’s anniversary.
The project “fulfills a dream, it speaks to us in our day, and it looks forward to coming generations,” says The Rev. Gordon Braatz, Central Lutheran staff pastor. “The tower and the bells become a witness in the center of the city, summoning people’s thoughts toward faith and hope.”
The tower is clad in Indiana limestone taken from the same quarry that produced the church building in 1928. The stone was cut in Madison, Wisconsin, and reassembled like a giant jigsaw puzzle.
“The five largest bronze instruments are swinging bells. The character of the sound changes as the bells throw it.” So says Mark Sedio, Central’s director of music. He describes other methods of playing the bells. “The traditional method is mechanical action, hitting the clavier. The clavier, which looks like a suspended pedal board of an organ, is housed in a small room, 4 feet by 7 feet, in the tower’s fifth story. It has its own heater and air conditioning.
“Another method is to use the three-octave keyboard in a side chapel of the sanctuary. Pressing a key sends an electronic impulse through a pneumatic system which is connected to the mechanical system. A series of buttons at the keyboard allows us to peal the bells or to toll them.
“Dynamic variances are not possible from the electronic keyboard, as they are from the clavier. Pressing harder on an individual baton of the clavier will make the sound louder. There’s also a computerized system, including more than four hundred preprogrammed hymns, which allows us to program others,” Sedio says.
Until now, the carillon and bells have been an unrealized part of Central’s founding mission, “not merely to serve its members, but to give them support in serving the community,” Pastor Braatz explains.
“Central was founded in 1919 by twelve audacious Norwegian men who wanted an English-speaking church in the heart of the city.
“This was to be an American church, not an ethnic church. Its focus was on the whole community. It was to be an egalitarian sort of place where, in the language of the time, ‘the day worker shall be able to sit next to his employer.’”
The first service was held on Palm Sunday 1919 in a leased building.
Braatz says, “The present Neo-Gothic church structure was completed in 1928. The plan included a 139-foot bell tower, but monies were not sufficient to build it.” The dream was deferred until a few years ago, when an anonymous donor offered to fund the tower and bells.
The architectural firm of Bentz-Thompson-Rietow returned to the 1925 blueprints. Fortunately, footings for the tower were in place from the beginning. In September 2004, Braatz was among 20 members from Central who visited the Foundry Piccard in Annecy, France, for the casting of the largest bell. It weighs 4,800 pounds.
“We did a blessing of the bells as they were cast. Historically church bells were thought to be living things because they speak.
“The basic shape and size gives each bell its character. We learned that 78% copper alloyed with 22% tin is the optimum formula for the bronze. Later, Cyril Piccard, a seventh generation bell maker, came to Minneapolis to oversee installation of the bells.”
Christmas Eve services at Central Lutheran, at which worshipers and community members will first hear the bells, are scheduled for 4:00 and 10:30 p.m. David John-son, carilloneur at The House of Hope Presbyterian Church, St. Paul, will present a brief program at Central on Palm Sunday, April 9, 2006, before the formal dedication of the new carillon and bells. Original water color drawings of the church, done in the 1920s by the architectural firm of Sund & Dunham, will be on display.
Tentative plans for Palm Sunday include commissioning composer Stephen Paulus to write a piece for orchestra, 47 bells and organ. The 90-piece Minnesota Orchestra, under the direction of Osmo Vanska, will be featured, along with the bells, Central’s Casavant organ, the church’s choir and congregational singing, in a concert at 4:00 p.m., April 9. It will be open to the public (a freewill offering will be received).
Plans are being made to launch a 5K Bell Tower Run, Saturday, April 8, 2006. The course would include other downtown churches with bells and would also involve bell choirs of those churches.
Further in the future, various carillon events will take place in conjunction with the American Guild of Organists national convention in Minneapolis in June 2008. Central Lutheran will host the group’s opening service.