(Note: On May 21, 2018, Grace Lutheran Church in Blaine, Washington re-installed their church bell that had been in storage for decades, awaiting a new bell tower. The story of how the bell was returned to its new home and a brief history of the Lutheran church in Blaine and its Icelandic roots is recounted here.)
Story and photo by Lynne Shelton
In 1914, a small group of Icelandic immigrants bought two lots of land in the small border town of Blaine Washington, and with the guidance of Reverend Hjortur Leo, built a Church. The Church was chartered as Blaine Snofurdur, (Blaine Congregation), later as Blaine Lutheran Church. After two years Reverend Leo announced his departure. He cautioned the congregation “ To let no small difference come up as a hindrance to the cause, but stand together as one man, and God will bless your efforts.”
Reverend Sigurdur Olafson was called to be the first Pastor of the new Church. Church services were conducted in Icelandic until 1944. In English and Icelandic until 1946, and then English only.
Over the years, many Pastors served:
Halldor Jonsson, Valdimar Eylands, Gudmundur Pall Jonsson,Erik Sigmar, Arthur Hanson, Harold Sigmar, Albert Neubauer, Ernest Nygaard, Biomelle, Bracher, Hoyne, Philip Ramstead, George Beard, Gordon Pritchard, Paul Hoch, Dennis Wildermuth,and our Pastor since 2013, Aaron Zuch.
The Church split in 1928, when Reverend Halldor Jonsson resigned to establish the more liberal Icelandic Free Church in Blaine. In 1962, there was another split. Rev. Carl Fischer served as Pastor to the newly formed Peace Lutheran Church, L.C.M.S. for the next two years. In 1977, the two Churches were discussing a merger. In 1980, Blaine Lutheran and Peace Lutheran joined together to become Grace Lutheran Church. Reverend Dennis Wildermuth was called to serve at Grace, and did so for the next thirty two years, bringing stability.
A new Sanctuary was built at this time, and the older sanctuary and fellowship Hall from the old Church was incorporated into the new. The old bell, that had rung out each Sunday for the past 60 years, had to come down. It was moved at this time to a temporary location, under the roof of the old bell tower, where it was unable to ring out . Over the years, the question of what should be done with the bell was a common topic. Some wanted to get rid of the bell , and some wanted to hear the bell ring again. Little progress was made, and so the bell, quiet for the next 30 plus years, was mainly ignored.
In 2016, three members of Grace, with a varied history and connection with the original Church, and yes, of Icelandic descent, decided to explore some options regarding the future of the bell. Our desire to hear the bell ring again was foremost in our minds, along with honoring the past. We also recognized the real need to get the bell down from it’s temporary perch, before it came down on it’s own! Getting the bell down was a real challenge. We found the right crew to make it happen and all 360 pounds of the old bell was removed safely.
With approval from the congregation, we moved forward in faith. A special fund to raise money for the bell project was created, and thanks to the generous members and friends of Grace, our monetary needs have been met.
In 1980, the Architect for the new Sanctuary had included in his drawings , a bell tower. This proposal was put on hold because of the costs involved. Those original drawings were the inspiration for the 2018 design. Fortunately, we were able to engage an Architect that shared our vision and understood our mission. His design accomplishes the goal of unifying the older buildings with the newer, more modern design of the Sanctuary. We are extremely thankful for his guidance, expertise and patience!
The bell tower, bell, spire and cross, were assembled the morning of May 21, 2018. It went together like a three dimensional puzzle, guided by the crane operator, and placed. The tower is built of powder coated steel and is anchored to a hefty slab of concrete. The bell lives inside the tower, and the spire, topped with a cross , sits on top of the tower. The result is a lovely piece of living art! I say living , because the bell has come back to life. Our beautiful cast bell has had a makeover, and looks better than new, and sounds even better than we had dared to hope! The bell is ready to play an integral part in the worship service again, bridging the old with the new, the past with the present.
Over the past two years, we have experienced blessings at every turn. The right doors have opened and the right people and skill sets have been made available. The seemingly impossible has become possible.
Our hope and prayer is that when the bell rings out on Sunday mornings, or for any special service that takes place at Grace, that it will bring joy to our family here at Grace and joy to our community. May it be a blessing to all within hearing.
Thank you to everyone that contributed in any way, towards our goal of bringing new life to our old bell.
Thank you for meeting the monetary needs for the project.
Thank you for your encouragement.
A special thanks to Pastor Wildermuth, Sid Nesbitt, Architect, the bell committee and spouses, Tom and Jana Peterson Dunn, Steven and Rachel Hrutfiord and Bruce and Lynne Shelton.
-Laura Lynne (Goodman) Shelton