There is something very British about the sound of church bells. For centuries, their ringing has called us to wake, to pray, to work, to arms, to feast, and, in times of crisis, to come together. They ring out joyfully at weddings and toll mournfully at funerals. They mark the significant events in the lives of individuals, communities, and nations.
The early missionaries used small hand bells to call people to worship, with bells being introduced into Christian churches around 400 AD. Since then, the technology and art of bell ringing has developed significantly, including the development of ‘changes’ that could be learned by heart to create patterns of ringing, and ‘methods’, often titled after the cities in which they were first rung, such as Norwich, London and Cambridge.
At the end of the First World War, bells rang out across the country to celebrate the coming of peace, and have been used in celebrations ever since. 95% of bells in the UK ‘rang in’ the Millennium, a bell announced the opening of the London Olympics in 2012 and, as part of the Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations a floating belfry with eight bells led the Thames Pageant of a thousand boats.
Located as they are at the top of church towers – often the tallest structure in a community – and their sound going out in all directions, the ringing of bells is a good picture of a key part of the Christian gospel – that of proclaiming the ‘gospel’ (good news) of Christianity and calling all people to respond. A group of people work together, using their skill and commitment, to do their part, which is then translated into a pitched ‘song’ that is broadcast to all people in the vicinity, whatever their age, sex or social status. The good news of Christianity is for all, and it ‘rings out’ when Christians work together to bring that good news to their local communities in word and action.
“The Lord’s message rang out from you…”
(1 Thessalonians 1:8a)
The ringing teams in both Harwell and Chilton are always open to new ringers, and learning bell ringing can open up a hobby that can last a lifetime. A band of ringers can do so much more than one or two individuals – the variety of the ‘changes’ possible increases exponentially with each additional member. And so it is with proclaiming and being good news in our communities; with each new member, the possibilities multiply. We each have a unique and valuable role to play, ringing out across our communities.