The Bells Are Ringing Again at First Baptist Church – Remembrances of Sylacauga by Ginger Clifton
I found a wonderful picture at B.B. Comer Memorial Library the other day that brought to mind people and a time when handbells became a part of worship at First Baptist Church, Sylacauga. Because of the virus and limits on gathering in 2020, the bells were silent, but this year they are a focal part of worship again. The Christmas musical presentation will be Sunday morning, December 10, at the morning worship service. “There’s A Song in the Air” includes songs by the adult choir as well as the older and younger children’s choirs and selections by the bells including, “The Carol of the Bells” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Dr. Tommy Kines is directing the music.
Bells seem especially appropriate at Christmas, creating an emotional and spiritual connection with God. Music is a special part of worship; and according to the First Baptist Church’s history book One Hundred Fifty Years of History, published in 1983, it was in March, 1978, that a new 37 bell set of Schulmerick Handbells arrived to enhance the music ministry and worship of the church. These bells were quite expensive, but the cost was covered by contributions in honor of or in memory of friends and loved ones. A plaque in the bell room lists those names, and their faces parade across my mind reminding me of an anonymous Christmas writing, “Never a Christmas morning, never an old year ends, but someone thinks of someone, old days, old times, old friends.” Because of space, I cannot list all of these names, but the list includes memorials to Mrs. Sarah McCary, Mr. Don Nunley, Mr. Lewis Weaver, and Mrs. John Ogletree, Sr. Honorariums included Mr. Parky Allen, Mrs. M.G. Hightower, Sr., Shelia, Sharon, and Shane Parker, Mr. and Mrs. George O’Kelley, and Elaine, Karen, and Nancy O’Kelley. Sarah Meleesa Tankersley, Cherri Riggins West, and Mandi Meacham Cantrell were honored by their parents, and a group-memorial was given prayerfully in honor of Miss Julie Laughridge.
Auditions for the bell choir were held by Jerry Dykes, Minister of Music, who then organized two handbell choirs, an Adult Handbell Choir and a Youth Handbell Choir. There is a special technique and skill to ringing handbells. Bell ringers most certainly need to be musicians who read music and can be ready to ring at the proper place and time. Each member usually holds 2 bells and may be responsible for octave changes of those notes on one or two bells on the table in front of them. As a longtime church member, I appreciate the beauty and awe the handbells bring to worship, especially during special Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas services. The year for the older picture is most likely 1981.
Donna Nunley Trammell who became Organist at First Baptist on June 19, 1977, and continues today is a faithful musician who is still serving the Lord through music. Donna’s talents as an outstanding piano student were recognized by Rentz Barkley. Minister of Music at the time. He began teaching her organ, and that training was continued by Jerry Dykes who was hired to be Minister of Music in July, 1971. Donna was one of the Barkley/Dykes students who majored in music in college and use(d) their talents for the Lord all over the United States and the world (Jamie Schell Davis, in Korea). Karen O’Kelly Allen did not major in music, but had a vision to study music to supplement her income and glorify God. She is now a member of Meadow Brook Baptist Church and continues to use her musical skills playing piano, organ, bells, keyboard, etc., in mission trips around the world in India, Honduras, Germany and Paraguay. She and Martha Nunnelly alternated playing piano and organ for First Baptist services when they were still teenagers during a time when there was no paid organist.
The current handbell choir is excited to be ringing out the message of His love to young and old who worship with them from the pews. Faithfully they take up the bells and ring the glad tidings of Christmas, ever as fresh as in that time when, “And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, good will toward men.’” (Luke 2:13) And it was not so long ago at that.
With special thanks to Samantha Machen, Dr. Tommy Kines, Henry and Nancy Nunnelly, Karen Allen, Donna Trammell, Betty Gillum, and all those who honor Him with music and love this Christmas season.