Williamsburg, Va. - One of the country’s oldest African-American churches right here in Hampton Roads is gearing up for a huge celebration. The First Baptist Church of Williamsburg will celebrate its 240th anniversary with the ringing of its restored church bell, which has been quiet for decades.
“The bell has been silent because of structural reasons. It was very unsafe”, says the church’s Pastor Dr. Reginald Davis.
But soon the bell tower at the church will be silent no more. This Sunday members in the congregation will have an opportunity to ring the bell. However the pastor is stressing it’s not just for church members, “LetFreedomRingChallenge.org is our website. And that's the place where people can go and sign up to come and participate in ringing the bell. We're even asking youth to come, religious organizations, government people, people of every description to come and pull that bell.”
The bell was installed in the church’s former location on Nassau Street in Williamsburg in 1886 and then relocated not that far away to the current building on Scotland Street. Tina Gessler is with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and helped restore the bell, “The bell was very rusty, covered in a very thick layer of dirt, bird and rodent droppings. So we ended up steam cleaning it and after we steam cleaned, we did what's called a rust conversion treatment using tannic acid.”
In addition to the special cleaning, repairs were also necessary, but now it's ready. It's a bell that has not rung for decades since the days of the Civil Rights Movement. A key voice of that movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., visited the historic church.
Pastor Dr. Davis is hoping people coming to ring the bell and the lessons of the past will provide for a teachable moment.
“People sacrificed, people laid aside their differences, people came together to make this great republic what it is. So I'm hoping it will give people a sense of history and then help them to commit themselves that they’re going to help deliver a better nation to the generation to come.”
For more information on how to register to ring the bell or other activities associated with the church, click this link.