Hope travels south from Cottage Grove.
It rides the sways and swerves of the road that stretches passed 6th St. and the railroad crossing; beyond the quaint din of downtown Main Street to where houses, not businesses, dot the spaces between old fir trees. It hugs London Rd. into the rural stillness until it finally settles in the hearts of the ladies of the Church at London.
It’s not a big church—just 20 or so parishioners. It’s where the pews accommodate just one or two worshippers each and where they still hand make the communion waffers. It’s where members mark their pews with blankets the night before service and where some of those blankets mark the seats of those who have left the church to settle in the salvation they once sought there. It’s where preachers prefer to be called teachers and where the fence was painted by practiced hands and where, for the first time in decades, the bells don’t ring.
“Well, this whole thing is her fault,” said Sandy Tullar. She’s part of the small group of women gathered at the London Grange, just down the street from the Church at London. They have a sort of assembly line in place where holly from a 100-year-old bush is paired with greenery and donated decorations to become Christmas wreathes. “She got us started on this,” Tullar said.
‘She’ is Gretchen Spears and ‘this’ is an all-out effort to save the 159-year-old bell tower at the Church at London.
The church, first founded just after the Civil War in 1888 as the Liberty Church, was undergoing repairs earlier this year when the congregation discovered the problem.
“They told us, the worker, told us not to ring the bell because someone could get hurt,” Spears said. The bell had already been silenced after parishioners discovered that, if they rang it, dead flies would come tumbling into their sanctuary.
“The flies were attracted to the bell because of the rot,” Spears said.
The estimate to repair the bell totaled between $4,000 and $6,000—funds the church didn’t have. So, the bell lay silent and the congregation continued its repairs. Until Spears got a call from Tullar.
She had been painting the fence one day when she says her age and a holly bush stopped her from going any farther.
“Sandy called me and said she couldn’t squeeze past the holly bush so we went out there to cut it and I saw it and just said, ‘this is gold,’” Spears said.
The holly was from a 100-year-old bush the group hopes will stretch into enough wreathes to raise the thousands of dollars it needs to repair its bell.
With hope in their hearts, they’ve gathered every day—seven hours a day—for the last two weeks in the meeting room at the London grange where they twist and tie greenery and holly together, their fingertips blackened with the effort. This past Saturday they lined a festival booth at Shady Oaks with their wreaths hoping to garner additional funds.
“We painted the church white,” Spears said of the group’s repair efforts. “It’s been a place for marriages and baptisms and funerals and we painted it white because we wanted it to look shining and welcoming and to hear that bell ring again.”
To purchase a wreathe or donate to the bell’s repair fund, contact Spears at 541-844-6616 or email her at [email protected].