BLOOMFIELD, NJ — When Brookdale Reformed Church received a package containing a brass handbell bearing its name in raised lettering about a half-year ago, the musical instrument was an historic link to its past.
It had been found by a 10-year-old boy playing baseball in 1953 when his toe kicked against something partially buried in a Nutley field. He discovered the object to be a small bell. On its lip, in relief, could be read the dates “1802-1910” and the words “Brookdale Reformed Church.”
In a letter to the church accompanying the bell, the boy, now a 75-year-old man living in Dallas, said he kept the bell for 65 years, his bedridden grandmother even using it when she came to live with his family. But the internet and curiosity led him to learn that the Brookdale Reformed Church still existed. So he decided to mail the handbell back to Bloomfield, happy in knowing that it had found a good home. The bell was received October 2018 by the church pastor, Susan Dorward.
But since its arrival, two identical bells have turned up. These handbells had originally been sold as a fundraiser in 1910 after the church had burned down, their metal coming from the church bell once housed in the belfry but damaged in the fire. At the church recently after a service, Dorward explained how two more bells had chimed in.
She said the arrival of the first bell from Dallas made a church elder, Jim Thompson, remember that a previous pastor, the Rev, Scarlett Gorden, had seen an identical bell on eBay and purchased it for $40.
“It was buried around the church until the first one turned up and then we found it,” Dorward said. “We put it on the altar with the first one.”
As for the third bell, this newspaper had published a story about the first bell which traveled by social media. It was read by Kenneth Walsh, of Yulee, Fla. Dorward said Walsh had been a previous member of the Brookdale Reformed Church. He is now a minister in Yulee, Fla., at the Open Door Ministry.
“He remembered he had a bell after reading the article and sent it to us,” she said.
In a Nov. 2, 2018, letter accompanying the third bell, Walsh said his bell was purchased on eBay. He said he had been the organist at the church and his mother directed the choir. Both his mother and father served as elders and are buried in the church graveyard.
“I return this bell to your care, as a remembrance of my time with you,” he wrote.
Doward has been thinking about how to use the three bells. One idea is an historic display. Another is to have three differently abled men, congregates of the church, ring them at the beginning of the service. The men previously climbed up to the belfry, with an elder, to ring the church bell by pulling a rope, Dorward said.