Last Thursday, Gary and I got up at 4 a.m. in order to make a 6:15 a.m. flight from Des Moines to Detroit and on to Philadelphia. Gary’s nephew was getting married on Sunday, and our extended family was very excited about being together since the wedding had to be postponed for more than two years because of COVID.
Being back in my home territory was especially wonderful, having grown up just thirty miles northwest of Philadelphia in southeast Pennsylvania. Mind you, this is also Pennsylvania Dutch country. It’s a land rich in the Mennonite heritage in which I was raised, with iconic foods such as tomato pie, butterscotch Krimpets, Tastykakes, Philly cheesesteak, hoagies, soft pretzels, Scrapple, and Pork Roll.
One of the first things we did was visit the Liberty Bell on Independence Mall. Meditating upon this iconic symbol of freedom, I was reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, “Let freedom ring. Thank God Almighty, we’re free at last!” and “No one is free until we are all free.” I started to weep, realizing how deeply grateful I am to live in the US where we are free to live, serve, live, and reach out to the huddled masses yearning to be free.
The Liberty Bell became of major importance when abolitionists adopted it as a symbol as they attempted to end slavery throughout America. Since the Liberty Bell was created to commemorate the golden anniversary of William Penn’s 1751 Charter of Privileges, the words inscribed on the bell “Proclaim freedom throughout all the land” (Leviticus 25:10) are particularly apt. The abolitionists were the ones who gave it the name “Liberty Bell,” in reference to this inscription. It was previously called simply the “State House Bell.”
It is a tradition every year on the Fourth of July, at 2 pm Eastern time, for the children of all families who are descendants of the Declaration of Independence signers to gather to symbolically tap the Liberty Bell thirteen times. At the same time, bells across the country ring thirteen times to honor the patriots from the original thirteen states. In addition, the bell is gently tapped every year in honor of Martin Luther King Day. This ceremony was initiated in 1986 at the request of Dr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King.
I was not prepared for the deep emotions that surfaced as I simply stood in the presence of the Liberty Bell, gave thanks to God for the freedom we have in the United States, and renewed my commitment as a disciple of Jesus Christ and a United Methodist to accept the freedom and power God gives all of us to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression.”
We had the opportunity to see other sights in Philadelphia as well, including the Reading Terminal Market, which opened in 1893. As William Penn and his associates began the town of Philadelphia, they gathered fishermen, hunters, and farmers, who were selling their goods along the Delaware River. Today the Reading Terminal is considered one of the finest public markets in the US, with more than eighty merchants selling fresh produce, meats, fish, groceries, flowers, baked goods, crafts, books, clothing, and hard-to-find specialties and ethnic foods. Gary and I had a great time taking our grandsons to the Reading Terminal, where they were so awestruck they didn’t know where to even begin choosing what foods to try!
In addition to learning more about our heritage as a nation, we also prepared for a wedding. Gary’s nephew Jack Haller was married to Danielle Fanelle on November 19. What joy it was to gather with several hundred people to celebrate Jack and Danielle’s love for each other and their desire to make a difference in the world.
Gary co-officiated at the wedding with John Fanelle, Danielle’s uncle and a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church. What a blessing to not only have our own extended family be present but also to be graced by the hospitality of the Fanelle family.
Eternal God, Creator and Preserver of all life,
Author of salvation, Giver of all grace:
Bless and sanctify with your Holy Spirit
Danielle and Jack, who come now to join in marriage.
Grant that they may give their vows to each other
in the strength of your steadfast love.
Enable them to grow in love and peace
with you and with one another all their days,
that they may reach out
in concern and service to the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This Thanksgiving, I’ve had time to reflect on the many blessings of my life, and I would encourage you to do so as well. Thanks be to God for the gift of family, the joy of celebration, and the bell of liberty.