Bells Build a Worship Community and a Church
Trinity Heights United Methodist Church in Newton, Kansas began in 1963. Many of the earliest members were young families with children who committed to the new venture out on the edge of town. They wanted to be part of a growing faith community. They made financial and personal sacrifices for this act of faith.
Trinity Heights’ founding members placed value on a strong music program. A choir was an important part of worship from the beginning. In 1977, three octaves of bells were purchased with cash donations, pledges, and memorial donations, a pattern that continued to fund the bell choir program for successive decades. A congregation member crafted oak music stands. More bells, table covers, foam pads, tables, and choir chimes were added to the program over the years, with congregation members’ designated gifts, until in early 2000 a fifth octave of bells was completed including the large and expensive bass bells, along with 4th and 5th octave bass choir chimes purchased in 2017.
The bell program at Trinity Heights always included both Youth and Adult choirs, with a brief hiatus for Youth in 1987-88 when there were not enough youth to complete a choir. One name dots the history of the bell program consistently from 1977 forward: Karen Monroe.
Karen was born and raised in a small town in western Kansas where she took piano lessons and was always involved in the music of her Methodist church. She trained as a teacher, taught for several years, married a CPA, and when children arrived it became apparent tax season for their family meant she was needed to run the family. It also meant she could pursue her avocation as a musician, particularly to participate in the new bell program at Trinity Heights. She directed the Youth Bell Choir from 1979-87 and the Adult Bell Choir from 1985 to the present. Her other volunteer work at the library and hospital, as well as any travel she wanted to do, revolved around the bell choir schedule. After all, everyone has to be there when the bell choir plays. If one person is missing there is not a choir. Karen does not miss this point nor does the choir. They are committed.
Bell choir members not only are committed to the bell choir, but also to the church. Bell choir membership has become, in some instances at least, a metaphor for how one can view church membership, and as an extension, one’s commitment to the Christian faith. You show up. You pay attention. You listen. You play your part on time. If you have to be gone you make sure someone else is there to take your place. If it is time to polish the bells, everyone does it. (If you want to play you do the dirty work too.)
The boys and men like to play the big bells. This is not just women’s sport. Gender equality. Everyone matters. Youth choir members become adult choir members at Trinity Heights. The current Youth Choir director was a Youth Choir member who became an Adult choir member. Now his son plays too. Mothers and daughters play together – it is an intergenerational choir.
Prior to her recent retirement, Karen has been involved with the bell program for 45 years. She claims she is not a professional musician – just a volunteer. Yet she is the glue that held the program together and nurtured not just musicians but Christians young and old. She built the worshipping community of Trinity Heights, nurturing the musical and worship life of this church for decades. She not only directed bells but also served on the worship committee and cared for other parts of worship. (She sings alto on the hymns in the congregation.) She encouraged “professional” musicians along the way, not the least of whom is her own son, a music educator who creates new generations of musicians in his own way. Her husband sang in the choir at the church and both of them supported the entire music program, including making sure the church had a good organ when a new sanctuary was built. But Karen, with her quiet, passionate commitment to the bell program at Trinity Heights has been a singular, continuing, steady presence of music and worship unlike that of anyone. Thank you, Karen.