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LifeSong celebrates fifth anniversary with incorporation of 200-year-old bell

Posted: June 23, 2014 - 1:58pm
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BJ FOX PHOTO   Charter members of LifeSong, Neal and Ruth Johnson, stand with Brother Freddie Mark Wilcox and the 200-year-old bell ready to be lifted to the roof of LifeSong church.
BJ FOX PHOTO Charter members of LifeSong, Neal and Ruth Johnson, stand with Brother Freddie Mark Wilcox and the 200-year-old bell ready to be lifted to the roof of LifeSong church.

LifeSong Baptist Church celebrated their fifth anniversary with the lifting of a cupola containing a very special 200-year-old bell and then placing their refurbished church steeple atop that on their building. They celebrated with a dedication ceremony, a grand dinner catered by Miss Ann’s Kitchen and a group photo on their front steps. It was a joyous occasion symbolizing a joint effort by many members and friends of this fairly new church to this community.

LifeSong is housed in a very old building with quite a history, having started as a gym at Centerville School. The story goes that in 1953 it was moved in three parts on a bull-dozer trailer by Cecil Garrett. Another story says it was completely disassembled   and then re-assembled in order to move it. It even got stuck in Black Fork Creek, and a part of a bridge was removed to get it where it now stands. Many people thought LifeSong was crazy to buy “that old building,” but they started with 50 members and now have 353.

When LifeSong bought the yellow brick church standing on the corner of Highway 65 and Church Street (Green Valley Road) five years ago, the steeple was in such bad shape that they had to remove it for fear it would fall and injure someone. They stored it away until Brother Freddie Mark Wilcox had a very creative idea many months ago. He was visiting a church at Morrilton when he spied an iron 24-inch bell sitting in a cradle there. He was so much in awe he took photos and showed them to an antique picker named Thad Harvey, a member of LifeSong.

Lo and behold, if Harvey said, “I know exactly where there is a bell hanging just like that. But it’s not for sale.”

It was at Hutchinson’s Auctions on Highway 65. Once John Hutchcraft found out it was for Brother Freddie Mark, not only was it available, but it was donated to the church. Those bells are valued between $1,200 to $1,500 when you can find them still in good shape.

Once that donation happened, the congregation got behind the project of a new cupola to house the bell and the refurbishing of the old steeple that had been stored in their garage in time to celebrate LifeSong’s fifth anniversary. The steeple is about 20 feet high and made of fiberglass and now sits atop the six-foot tall cupola, which makes the top of the steeple about 50 feet in the sky.

Ranger Boats in Flippin, Ark., refurbished the steeple and painted it to look shiny as a brand new boat. McNew Metal in Wooster built the cupola. Mike Brown donated labor and siding. Hilco Home Improvement did the trim work with round windows to match their newly painted old building. Central Arkansas storage system helped with roofing, along with many, many hands who contributed their expertise to get this project completed. In all, the congregation raised about $8,500 and stayed within their budget, never realizing this project should have cost, and is easily now appraised at, around $35,000.

When the cupola with the bell in it and then the steeple atop was raised by a crane from Nabholz Construction, there were many watchers and sidewalk superintendents applauding the very careful and dangerous lifting process. It required special care not to damage any part, the newly-roofed building or any of the bystanders and took about two and a half hours. They had four or five brave men who worked on that roof about 30 feet off the ground to bolt each section together and drop the pull rope into the front of the sanctuary to ring the bell.

There has not been a church bell heard in Greenbrier since a tornado in 1927 badly damaged the First United Methodist Church’s steeple. Their bell still exists inside their church and is rung just before Sunday School each Sunday morning but can only be heard within their church.

Brother Freddie Mark said, “We plan to ring our bell at 9:15 and 10:15 each Sunday morning,” probably a total of 15 pulls of the rope.

He did some research on how long to ring a church bell, and the average is about 12-15 pulls. Some people said they heard the bell for the first time as far away as Main Street.

Their bell dedication and luncheon brought out close to 300 members and guests. Brother Freddie Mark said, “Quite a difference from the 50 members we started with five years ago! I hope the whole community will enjoy the new bell in town and celebrate with us on Sundays.”

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