City Council has spoken: The bell at St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in Manayunk most likely won't be silenced.
"You are preaching to the choir," Majority Leader Marian B. Tasco told a neighboring minister who argued in favor of St. John's bell ringing at a hearing Tuesday by Council's Committee on Public Health and Human Services.
On Thursday, the full Council will consider the legislation, which would exempt churches and schools from Philadelphia's noise ordinance. A final vote could occur next Thursday. Currently, exemptions exist for just aircraft, trains, and licensed fireworks displays.
The church clamor began early last month when St. John's pastor, the Rev. James A. Lyons, received a warning letter from the city Health Department. The letter, which followed a complaint that was filed, threatened the 179-year-old church with fines of up to $700 per day if the pealing bell was determined to be in violation of the city's 2006 noise law.
At issue is the volume of the 7 a.m. bell ringing, which includes the 18 chimes of the Roman Catholic call to prayer, called the Angelus. Those same 18 chimes also ring at noon and 6 p.m., and the church bells ring as well every hour from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
To residents who grew up in the area, the chimes are part of Manayunk's charm, a welcoming and decades-long defining characteristic of their neighborhood.
"This bell symbolizes to the faith community that God is still alive," the Rev. Robert Collier of nearby Galilee Baptist Church told the Council committee.
No one at the hearing testified against the legislation, including the city Health Department, which supports the exemption.
"Simple things like this need to be done because it means so much to so many people," said Councilman James F. Kenney, who introduced the legislation.
That's not to suggest everyone is pleased.
"I live across the street from the church and the church's practices of ringing their clock bells in the morning are very disruptive to my life and well-being. I find it very concerning that the councilman does not view the well-being of his constituents over the outdated traditions of a religious group," Manayunk resident Bill Leeper wrote in an e-mail to Kenney.
In an interview, Leeper, 26, said while he did not file a complaint with the city, he has been frustrated by the ringing bell since moving to his home in 2006. "I guess I can sell my house," he said, "but I don't feel like it, especially in this market."
Another opponent of the exemption, Christopher Eggleston, wrote to Kenney after reading a story about his legislation on Philly.com: "I am disgusted that you would waste time drafting legislation to legalize noise disturbances emanating from churches."
Noting that he has frequently slept past 8:30 a.m. as he is recovering from open-heart surgery, Eggleston, an atheist, continued: "It is one thing to live next to a firehouse and hear the occasional siren needed to save lives, it is quite another to be forced to listen to the ringing bell of someone else's religion."
In an interview, Eggleston, 34, said while he is not in earshot of the bell, he understands the frustrations related to its chiming. Before moving to Manayunk two years ago, Eggleston said, he lived about two and a half blocks from Boston's Fenway Park - and tired of related aggravations quickly.
The bell at St. John's has been ringing for more than 100 years. However, its chime was not heard for much of the last three years because of a broken sprocket. It was fixed, and the bell began ringing again in February.
Then came the complaint. "We were surprised to be notified we were in violation," Lyons said Tuesday.
The legislation would provide exemptions to the noise law for "sounds lasting no more than 5 minutes in any one hour created by chimes, carillons, or the human voice . . . while used in connection with a religious institution."
It also would allow sounds created by school bells, and "a clock or bell tower to mark time."