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Ringers hail new church addition

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By Birdie Jaworski

A row of Las Vegans stand at the front of the First United Presbyterian altar prior to Sunday service, smarty dressed in white dress shirts and black cotton gloves. They wait, each holding the handle of a gilded bell.

Conductor Karyl Lyne raises her arms, pointing at one ringer, then another, coaxing tones into the sanctuary. A cascade of clear chimes fills the space. The music is gentle, familiar, reminiscent of Christmas, of old-fashioned weddings. The ringers concentrate, lifting each bell and thrusting it with precision.

The history of handbells spans back to Medieval times, when the bells were steeped in superstition. Like people, the bells were baptized, and once baptized had the power to ward off evil spells and spirits.

Bells were hung in doorways to protect visitors from lurking evil spirits. A visitor would ring the bell to drive the spirits away then pass inside, the likely origin of today’s doorbell. The sound of consecrated bells was also believed to dispel thunder and lightning and to calm storms at sea — all of which were believed to be responsible by demons. The First United Presbyterian’s Rainbow Ringers, however, chime their golden bells not to dispel fear of thunderstorm and hail, but for the pure joy of the sounds they produce.

“The bell choir is excited to perform at the First United Presbyterian Church Building Addition Dedication on May 31,” explains Karyl Lyne. “We’ll be giving concerts throughout the day as well as hand chime workshops for those interested in playing bells. We’ll be welcoming new members to the choir this fall.”

The church’s dedication program is designed to welcome the Las Vegas community to newly completed construction at the Douglas Avenue facility.

The work includes an addition to the Fellowship Hall, a new Session meeting room, a second story with a youth room, two Christian education rooms, a restroom and access by stairs, elevator, and a Diamond Avenue entrance on the church’s upper level.

“Our motto is ‘Building Futures for 130 Years,’” says Lyne,” and all of these new facilities are designed for community service, for the future of the Las Vegas people.”

The First Presbyterian Church was established in 1869, on the Socorro Street hill overlooking the great plains. It consisted of a sanctuary and a two-story mission school, now the present location of Rio Gallinas Public School.

The Rev. John Annin officiated as first pastor, and was known for his sense of humor and welcoming spirit, traits which today’s pastor, the Rev. Randy Campbell, also hold. The church moved to its current location on Douglas after the arrival of the railroad and the establishment of the “new town” of East Las Vegas in 1879.

Saturday’s celebration includes tours through the sanctuary and talks about the church’s history as well as information on the Mission Church and its ongoing restoration. Videos and historical images of the church through Las Vegas history can been viewed in the Session room off Fellowship Hall all weekend long.

Festivities begin at 11 a.m. Saturday with a youth performance in the sanctuary, and continue with a cook-out lunch on the patio. The afternoon’s events offer music and information, with several hand bell and piano concerts plus a drumming circle, as well as information booths set up by local community organizations.

“You don’t want to miss the bell choir,” encourages Lyne. “We’re playing selections from The Phantom of the Opera.

The choir has practiced hard and is ready to put on a good show. We will perform at 12:30 and again at 1:30 during the afternoon.”