Jan 03, 2024
The Rev. John Helt, a member of the Conference History Committee, helped coordinate the relocation of two key artifacts that occupied places of honor at the former Conference office at the Trost Center in DeForest: a bell and baptismal font from the former Friedens UCC in Milwaukee. The bell now sits outside the new Conference offices at Daycholah Center, and the font is housed at Middleton UCC. Here, John, a former Friedens pastor, celebrates the history behind these items.
The bell hung in the tower of Friedens Church in Milwaukee from 1906 until 1983. On Easter 1983, this bell and four companion bells at Friedens were rung with such Resurrection enthusiasm that mortar, brick and stone began to crumble, falling to the street below. Wooden framing inside the tower had rotted, and the bell tower and its soaring spire were held aloft only by several layers of brick.
The intersection of 13th Street and West Juneau Avenue was closed to traffic. A large crane moved the spire to the center of the intersection. The bell was also removed, and the shortened tower was capped off. The bell was kept in storage until the new Wisconsin Conference offices were completed 10 years later in DeForest. There, the bell welcomed guests to the Frederick R. Trost Center for the next 30 years. That property was sold in 2023, and the Conference headquarters relocated to the Spring Grove Lodge at Daycholah Center. The Friedens bell followed.
Friedens Church was founded in 1869 by the German Evangelical Synod of North America. (Friedens means “peace” in the German language, which was used by the congregation well into the 20th century.) Although the congregation of Friedens United Church of Christ voted to close later in the 1980s, Friedens’ outreach to the surrounding neighborhood lives on through Guest House of Milwaukee, a homeless shelter, and through Friedens Food Pantries, which distributes food six days a week at four different sites across Milwaukee.
The bell lists the names of the church, pastor and members of the church council, along with this verse from the Psalms:
PREISIT MIT MIR DEN HERRN LASSET UNS
MITEINANDER SEINEN NAMEN ERHOEHEN
(Praise with me the name of the Lord
Let us exalt his holy name together)
The white marble baptismal font that formerly occupied a central location in the foyer of the Trost Center also has a new home — Middleton Community UCC, where congregation member Barbara Brown is the great-grand-niece of Rudolf Helz, one of the Friedens council members named on the bell. Hundreds of babies were baptized at the font. They included Barbara’s grandmother Louise Helz, who was baptized in 1906, the year the church building opened, and my son Adam, who was baptized in 1979.