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Heights Church Gets a New Bell Tower for the Holidays

First Presbyterian Church in Chicago Heights is getting a new bell tower, just in time for Christmas.

With all our electronic devices, an old bell wouldn't get much attention these days, but at First Presbyterian Church in Chicago Heights, that chiming is meant to bring a call of peace to the north side of the Heights.

The First Presbyterian's bell will sound a little different this holiday season, as the church will make a return to its roots and have its original bell from more than 150 years ago brought back to life inside a new bell tower, according to the Rev. Delmar Meester.

"Originally when the bell was first used in 1843, it was a call to worship," says Meester. "The history goes back a long way."  

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Meester shares a newspaper article written in 1913, appearing in the Chicago Heights Signal. In part it goes on to say "the bell was one of the first brought into the community." 

On a Sunday morning in the year 1857, promptly at 9 a.m. and again a half hour later, a bell in the belfry of the Chicago Road church summoned worshippers to service.

In 1964, Chicago Heights Construction Company built the present First Presbyterian Church, located at 900 Thomas Street. Dan Bergin Sr. was the estimator at the time. Today his son, Dan Bergin Jr., is overseeing the rebuilding of the bell tower.

"I remember being here as a teenager sweeping the floors, when it was being built," says Bergin Jr. "To come back and do something like this, especially something so visible is coming full circle."

A supervisor on site takes one panel off at a time, goes back to the shop, makes another panel by hand, then replaces it. A meticulous labor with a beautiful result.

"Back when this was being built, our company performed the carpentry and concrete," says Bergin Jr. "Those buildings then (had) more carpentry than we have now. It's a nice looking structure, and we're talking this church is almost 50 years old."

First Presbyterian is not alone in its longevity. Next June, Chicago Heights Construction will be 105 years old, and Bergin Jr. has found himself going back to projects his father took part in.

"Having our company here, this is a highlight," Bergin said. "Just last year we replaced the spire (at First Presbyterian), we noticed the base with the arched windows needed to be worked on. We hope now there will be many years of maintenance free use."

Meester is looking forward to hearing the bell again. "We don't use the bell every week," he said. "We have another bell sounding system in the bell tower which is activated by the organist. The advantage is you can hear the bells inside as well as outside. In our more technological age, we use the sound system."

Every day you can hear the sound system play hymns from 6 p.m. to 6:20 p.m. For Christmas Eve it will be a different story. At 7:30 p.m. a call to worship is on the agenda at First Presbyterian. There will be no sound system that night, as the long-silent bell tower will come alive again with the clanging of the bell, the same bell Chicago Heights residents heard back in 1843.

It is for those for whom the bell tolls.

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