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Resurrection of Long-Absent Church Bells Gets High Praise in Park Slope

 The new bells at St. John-St. Matthew-Emanuel Church on Prospect Avenue are generating positive emails.
Return of Long-Absent Church Bells Gets Rave Reviews in South Slope
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PARK SLOPE — In a city where residents can feel like they're under assault from the blare of sirens, the bleat of cell phones and the boom of delivery trucks, it's not often that people welcome new noises into their environment.

But that's exactly what happened recently when the St. John-St. Matthew-Emanuel Church on Prospect and Sixth avenues starting ringing its bells again after a five-year hiatus.

Pastor David Parsons was "pleasantly surprised" to get a flurry of emails from locals applauding the return of the melodious chimes, which now ring daily at noon and 6 p.m., and on Sundays 15 minutes and one minute before services.

"The block loves the bells," wrote a resident of 17th Street, which is across the noisy canyon of the Prospect Exressway from the church. "Thank you for bringing back the bells. I always loved to hear them," said another admirer. A Park Slope mom Tweeted, "The Lutheran church a block away has fixed its bells and now it rings at 12 and 6pm so beautiful!"

The positive feedback is quite a feat in a neighborhood where "loud music/party" tops the list of 311 complaints, according to NYU's Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy.

For church members, the ding-dong of the bells was an urban noise they craved, Parsons said.

Like many modern churches, St. John-St. Matthew Emanuel uses an automated system that plays pre-recorded gongs from speakers perched high in the belfry. The Lutheran church's last bell system was a Rube Goldberg-style contraption that played cassettes similar to eight-track tapes. It went to the big bell tower in the sky five years ago after four decades of faithful service.

After five years of silence, a generous church member missed the bells so much that she donated money to help replace them. Now St. John-St. Matthew Emanuel has a state-of-the-art carillon (bell-ringing system) that cost nearly $10,000.

It has a touch screen monitor and can play 900 different hymns, as well as other songs such as the National Anthem and "Happy Birthday," though Parsons said he couldn't imagine playing those tunes. The system can also ring bell tones to fit just about any life occasion, from "celebration peal" to "funeral toll."

Right now the automated bells play the Lutheran classic "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" at noon and "Amazing Grace" at 6 p.m. Parsons plans to switch up the music for holidays. There will be carols at Christmas, Easter hymns in the spring, and "We Three Kings" will make an appearance around Three Kings Day.

The new bells could help raise the profile of the church, which has about 330 congregants, Parsons said.

The church's building, built in 1899, was once the tallest building on the block. Twenty years ago, its neighbors were small wood frame houses and a two-story warehouse. Since then new apartment buildings that dwarf the church have been constructed on either side of it.

"There are significant structures that hide the church, so it's nice to have something to proclaim our presence in the community," Parsons said.