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Ringing in a church’s future

Eagle Harbor Congregational Church member Mary Macpherson waits to tow the bell and miniature steeple through the Grand Old Fourth parade.  - DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo
Eagle Harbor Congregational Church member Mary Macpherson waits to tow the bell and miniature steeple through the Grand Old Fourth parade.
— image credit: DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo

Eagle Harbor will add a second bell to its steeple, if the town helps.

If the church bell doesn’t summon you, the town bell just might.

That’s the hope at Eagle Harbor Congregational Church, which is taking its “Save Our Steeple” campaign to the broader island community.

Their pledge: to install a new, custom-cast bronze bell in the church belfry to be rung for downtown events, if the community will offer financial support to help preserve the building.

“We have an awful lot of money to raise,” said Reed Price, EHCC member and capital campaign director, “and we think that with our history with the community and our continued involvement in the community, it made sense for us to ask (for) some support from Winslow and Bainbridge as a whole, to keep the church physically sound.”

Earlier this year, the congregation launched a $500,000 fund drive to shore up the sagging building at Winslow Way and Madison Avenue, a downtown landmark since its construction in 1896.

The church needs a new roof, and the picturesque bell tower is said to be in danger of tumbling into the parking lot without structural repairs.

More upgrades are planned inside, including installation of fire sprinklers and renovation of the sanctuary.

The congregation raised $400,000 among its members, but has broken off the steeple project into a separate campaign to solicit outside funds as well.

Besides the Rev. Dee Eisen­hauer and several key parishioners, the campaign steering committee includes non-congregants Ed Kushner, Jim Chapel, Tom Kilbane, Trudi Inslee, Bess Alpaugh and Bill Carruthers.

The group hatched the idea of adding a second bell to the belfry, one with a different tone that would be used specifically for community festivals and other purposes.

The bell, with a 12-inch base and a higher-pitched tone than the one already in the steeple, will be cast by the Bellingham Bell Foundry.

The foundry provided a comparable bell, a “loaner” that was rolled out Sunday when the EHCC congregation joined parishioners from Bethany Lutheran Church for an outdoor service in the town square next to City Hall.

For the service – which centered on the obligations that come with freedom and liberty – the bell was mounted in a wooden model of the EHCC steeple, crafted by church member Bud Alger.

Youths were enlisted to swing the clapper to punctuate points of the message, sending a rich clang across the grounds and into the town beyond.

The bell and miniature steeple then rolled through the Grand Old Fourth parade the following day, to promote the campaign.

“Steeples are full of bells, and there’s a nice one up there,” Kushner said, “but we had to bring it down to the ground, in a sense, so people could connect with it.”

Campaign donations are now being taken through the church, or to a dedicated “Save Our Steeple” account at American Marine Bank.

A gift of $100 will get the donor’s name inscribed on the new bell – with “premium placement” at the top for $1,000 or more.

Price said the current bell is inscribed with the names of Winslow founders, so there is a symmetry to honoring current residents in a similar fashion.

For a pledge of $2,500 or more, the donor will also get a fully functional but smaller version of the bell, bronze cast with a 4-inch base and suitable for mounting on a boat or a desk.

In seeking contributions from the community, the church has emphasized the building’s traditional role in secular island life.

Non-sectarian groups that meet there include the 90-student Waldorf school, Helpline House’s “Super Suppers,” the Girl Scouts, the Bainbridge-Ometepe Sister Island Association and various 12-step and teen support groups.

“It’s become a sort of icon of downtown, totally apart from its congregation of Christian believers,” Kushner said. “I think if it had been a synagogue or a temple there for 100 years, it would have had the same prominence in the community.”

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