As Amy and I slipped quietly into the church pew at the old St. Paul's Church in Qingdao (now known simply as Guanxiang Road Church) one of the ushers spotted us, smiled, and came over to where we sat. "Aren't you the two ladies who were here yesterday asking about the old church bell?" he asked, through a big smile. "Yes," we replied. "Come with me," he said, "I'll ask someone to take you up into the tower to see the old bell right now."
We looked at each other in bewilderment because the previous afternoon when we had stopped by the church to inquire about the bell, this very man had treated us with suspicion (wouldn’t you?) and told us that if we wanted to know anything about the church we had to first go through the municipal church office. Yet here he was, all smiles and donning the role of Mr. Welcome!
We suggested that we would be happy to wait until after the service but he was insistent that we follow him now. He introduced us to another usher and told her "these American friends are here to learn about our church and our bell. Please take them to see the bell." Up we went, our dashed hopes of yesterday being rekindled with every step we climbed.
I actually hadn't known about this church until Mr. D., usher/tour-guide at the other church down the street (Qingdao Christian Church) told us about it on Saturday. "You should go up the street to St. Paul's Church," he said. "They have an old bell." After we were turned away on our first visit, I decided to go back and find Mr. D. and see what he could tell me about St. Paul’s Church and its bell.
He told me that the church had been built in 1938 by German Lutherans and most likely the bell was installed at that time, or shortly afterwards. I specifically asked if he knew what had happened to the bell during the Cultural Revolution. He told me that it had been taken away and installed in a factory in another city in the province where it was used to mark the beginnings and endings of the shifts. Someone from Qingdao recognized the bell and somehow spirited it away and hid it. (How do you steal and hide a cast iron bell?) Somehow the bell resurfaced in the last few years (I missed the details), and just last year the church purchased the bell back at an auction for the sum of RMB 40,000.
The inscriptions on the bell were written in German, which we couldn't read, but we could make out the date: 1883. I took photos of the inscriptions and sent them to a friend of mine who is an amateur genealogist. In order to trace his family history he has learned how to read German and Danish. Within ten minutes, he had them translated:
Bochumer Verein Gussstahlfabrik
(Bochumer Union Cast Steel Factory)
Der Gerechte Wird Seines Glaubens Leben
(The just[righteous] will live by [his] faith) (Romans)
After taking a few pictures we went back to the sanctuary for the service. At 9:25, the bells were rung, each ring announcing the truth of the inscription.
Another bell, another story of sustaining grace.
(Note: the bell at the other church has a story as well, but that will be in yet another post.)