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Bells or bellows: Ringing controversy at Bethlehem Lutheran Church

Quasimodo has nothing on Bethlehem Lutheran Church.

The bells at the venerable house of worship, at Fourth and Ovington avenues, have been ringing hourly between noon and 6 pm, and some residents say they causing a major headache.

“It’s making me so sick,” said Rose Ann Oldham, who has lived in the apartment building next door for 23 years, and whose bedroom window is near the church tower. “I have nothing against religion, but, I do have something against noise. For me to have to listen to something like this, so close to my bedroom, is insanity.”

The controversy began in August, when the church installed a new carillon, which rang on the hour, between 10 am and 7 pm, plus about four minutes of music at noon and 6 pm.

Previously, the bells only rang on Sundays, to call worshippers to service.

After three people complained about the regularity of the ringing, the church stepped it back, said its pastor, Rev. Paul Knudsen.

But that wasn’t enough to satisfy everyone, so, the church lowered the volume and disconnecting a speaker that is closest to the apartment building where most of the people who have complained live.

“We’ve tried to be as accommodating as possible,” he said. “We had it down one more notch, but at that point you’re not even hearing it from the street anymore. Why have bells if no one can hear them?”

For sanity’s sake, said Oldham, who began a petition drive to get the church to revisit its bell-ringing, but quit after she got 21 signatures because she was so shaken by the sound of the bells.

“I’m disabled, and I can’t go to work,” she said. “Now, I can’t stay in my own apartment.

But Bethlehem Lutheran Church is not the only church in Bay Ridge to ring bells, Knudsen pointed out.

Others, such as St. Anselm’s on Fourth Avenue at 80th Street, also ring their bells, but have done so for a long time, so the chimes aren’t likely to raise a ruckus.

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