First Presbyterian Church (FPC) in Delaware has been shut off to in-person worship since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but its presence is still being heard throughout the community. Every evening at 7 p.m., the bell at FPC rings out, serving as a reminder that while the building may be closed, the church is alive and well.
Rex Welker began the daily custom in April of last year, on Good Friday, after reading a story in The Gazette about the Ashley United Methodist Church (UMC) ringing its bell each evening as a way to remind the community of God’s presence in a time when meeting for worship was prohibited. With FPC facing the same circumstances, Welker figured he could do the same in his own community.
Like the Ashley UMC, FPC originally chose 6 p.m. to ring the bell. However, Welker said that after Delaware Mayor Carolyn Riggle asked the community to “make some noise” for the frontline workers at 7 p.m. each night, he pushed the time back an hour to coincide with the show of support.
“My idea was that ringing it at 7 p.m. was for the healthcare workers,” Welker said. “Ringing it at all was just to let people know that even though our doors are locked, we’re still there … You can’t get into our building, but at 7 p.m. every night, you’ll know it’s still there.”
To ensure the bell is sounded every night, with no exceptions, Welker has enlisted help for the times he’s been unable to carry out the task himself. Bob Wattenschaidt and Welker’s son, Chris, have filled in for him over the course of the past 10 months when Welker was out of town.
Welker said he doesn’t believe FPC is close to opening its doors to the congregation anytime soon, speculating that a return to in-person worship might not happen until summer at the earliest. Until then, FPC has been using Facebook Live to stream services, although Welker said it’s “not as good as being there in person.”
However long it may take for the church to reconvene inside FPC, Welker said he will continue ringing the bell daily until that day arrives.
“The people make up the church, not the building,” Welker said. “But I just want to remind people that yes, there’s a pandemic, but we’re still operating. Not like we’d like to be, but we’re still trying with the outreach and helping the community.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.