Bells Silenced

Bells Silenced

St. John Neumann Catholic Church has had to stop using its church bells because they exceed county noise levels.

For nearly a year now, the church bells at St. John Neumann Catholic Church have stopped ringing.

Last year, the church installed three automated church bells that rang during various times in the day. For some people living adjacent to the church, the bells were a nuisance. In the summer of last year, one neighbor filed a complaint with the county, which found that the church bells exceeded the county noise ordinance. The church was told it could no longer use the bells, except for the smallest of the three, which is used for funerals.

Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) recently got involved in the issue, asking county staff to look at the noise ordinance to see if a change might resolve the issue — a request approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

“We will look at it more comprehensively and then determine if there is appropriate action for ordinance change that would address the issues in balance with the citizens and the church,” said Hudgins.

AT ST. JOHN NEUMANN, the Rev. Thomas Murphy said they first tried to quiet the bells when they found out it was in violation of the noise ordinance.

The bells, which were purchased from the Verdin Company, are controlled by an electrical mechanism. To make the bells less noisy, Murphy said, the voltage to the bells was reduced as much as possible.

However, the noise caused by the bells still violated the ordinance.

“We can’t reduce it any more,” said Murphy, who added that the bells were “too costly an investment to replace.”

Murphy is hoping the issue can be resolved so the bells can be used again.

“Our intent is certainly not to aggravate our neighbors, but for us this is an important part of our call to worship,” said Murphy. “We’re doing our best to cooperate. We regret that this is causing some hurt to other people.”

Hudgins said that the church had indicated that they were not aware of the noise ordinance when they had the bells installed early last year. At minimum, she would like to change the ordinance so it is easier for churches and other communities of worship to know whether or not a new church bell meets the county law.

RIGHT NOW, the issue is still far from being resolved. Lorrie Kirst of the Zoning Administration Division said that the county supervisors have put the issue on a “list of amendments of further prioritization.” The list is made up of priority issues that the supervisors want staff to look into for changes.

It will still be some time before staff will be able to look at the issue more closely.

“I don’t anticipate to be addressing this until next year at the very earliest,” said Kirst. “And even then, we have a pretty long list, so we don’t know the timing of when we’ll actually get to it.”