Ring Them Bells!
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I LOVE church bells. I grew up with them. I loved that you could tell the time without having to look at a watch. According to Christianity.com bells have been rung throughout church history for “spiritual and practical purposes such as to call the faithful to worship, to highlight a particular stage during a church service, to remind the faithful of God’s presence in their daily lives, and to announce important occasions to the local community.” Sadly American church bells have largely fallen silent — a nostalgic tone of yesteryear.
Just a few weeks ago, I was blessed to be reminded of how resonant church bells are. While on sabbatical, I stood outside of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral. A full peal of glorious bells called the city to worship and to join in the celebration of the Liturgy of the Palms. All Glory, Laud & Honor — done up in style!
Not to be outdone, here at Emmanuel, Easter Sunday was also glorious indeed! The most spectacular flowers, the most spectacular music, an inspiring sermon, and BELLS!
If you were in the pews with us April 9th or the not-so-low Sunday after, you heard Emmanuel’s bell choir beautifully ring in this resurrection season.
And bonus! On Easter Sunday proper, EVERYONE rang bells at the opening acclamation:
Alleluia. The Lord is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
This ancient tradition harkens back to a time when church bells were a regular part of parish life — except during Holy Week when they were silenced – and then joyfully rung again on Easter Sunday morning!
Who knew, right? And here’s more…
Did you know that an acolyte rang Emmanuel’s church bell, as well? Did you even know that Emmanuel had a church bell? Well we do! The belfry is above the sacristy and the rope hangs by the window. Beginning Mothers Day Sunday, bell ringing will become a regular thing. Five minutes prior to the 10 o’clock service, an acolyte will ring the church bell — a Trinitarian three times — to call us all to worship. (And you can be a bell ringer, too! Let me know if you or a young family member are interested and I will set you up!)
Bells can’t talk but they do sing. Here are a few very interesting things the bells themselves were too shy to share. From a great article on the History Hit website by Charlotte Ward.
- “The first metal bells were created in ancient China and were used as part of religious ceremonies. The tradition of using bells was passed on through to Hindu and Buddhist religions. Bells would be installed at the entrances of Hindu temples and were rung during prayer.”
- “Though the use of bells is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, it does encourage worshippers to ‘make a joyful noise’ (Psalm 100) and bells are a great way of doing this. Bells were introduced into Christian churches around 400 AD by Paulinus, Bishop of Nola in Campania after missionaries had been using handbells to call people to worship. It would take another 200 years for bells to be featured prominently in churches and monasteries across Europe and Britain. In 604, Pope Sabinian sanctioned the use of church bells during worship. Bede notes that church bells have appeared in Britain around this point and by 750 the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of London introduced rules for the ringing of the church bells.”
- “In the middle ages, many believed that church bells held supernatural powers. One story is that the Bishop of Aurelia rang the bells to warn locals of an impending attack and that when the enemy heard the bells, they ran in fear. In the modern era we perhaps cannot appreciate nor fathom how loud and imposing these bells would be to people.”
- “It was also believed that church bells could ring themselves, particularly at times of tragedy and disaster. It is said that after Thomas Becket was murdered, the bells of Canterbury Cathedral rang by themselves.”
- “Belief in the power of the bell continued into the 18th century. Bells were rung to drive away evil, to heal the sick, to calm storms before a journey, to protect the souls of the dead and to mark days of execution.”
Whew, who knew!
The plan for Emmanuel’s bell is that it will only ring out joy — but unfortunately — it does not have have any magical powers and cannot ring itself. So, if you or a young member of your family are interested in becoming a ringer on Sunday mornings, give me a ring. Haha! No, better yet, email me instead!
Soli Deo Gratia,
Easter Storytelling The Episcopal Church Church Bells Clergy Easter Podcast The Rev. Joan L. Peacock
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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog
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