Thoughts on Ringing

Ian Rees is Ringing Master of Basingstoke District

The recent news of the dismissing of the ringers at York Minster has prompted me to think about ringing and responsibilities, and what we can do to safeguard them, both as ringers and church leaders. I am not going to comment on the actual events at the Minster, as I don’t have both sides of the story, except to say that we should hold the ringers and Dean and Chapter in our prayers, and hope that the situation can be quickly resolved.

Ringing is an unusual activity in that it has a primary purpose, to ring before services to call people to worship, as well as celebrating life events such as weddings and funerals, and a secondary purpose of “hobby” ringing, for want of a better word, such as outings, some peals and quarters, district meetings etc. In all these activities, both primary and secondary, we are only able to perform them because of the generosity of the Incumbent and Churchwardens, who have the responsibility in Canon Law for the use of the bells.

Canon F 8 “Of Church Bells” states that:

“1. In every church and chapel there shall be provided at least one bell to ring the people to divine service.

  1. No bell in any church or chapel shall be rung contrary to the direction of the minister

(The latter is usually interpreted as minister and church wardens).

This means that no ringing can take place without agreement of the minister and wardens, and they can direct when bells can or cannot be rung. Usually this is done in conjunction with the ringers, and hopefully, general ringing times are agreed, such as service ringing and practice nights, whilst other requests are a matter for discussion. Some churches are lucky and have a good relationship with the minister and are able to ring pretty much as often as they like, especially if sound control is not an issue. Others may not be so lucky, and we have to accept that. However, if service ringing is difficult to achieve, then there is a real problem, as that would seem to go against Canon F8.

Where the “hobby” side of ringing is concerned, we need to remember we don’t have a right to ring when and where we want, but, in conjunction with the church authorities, who are more aware of local reaction to the bells being rung than we are, we are able to ask to ring, and by and large, are able to do so. I have been on outings where the local ringer has said how lovely it is to hear the bells rung as we don’t really have a band any more. On the other side of the coin, a tower where I used to ring notified a parishioner who lived very close to the church if a quarter or peal was going to be rung so that he could arrange to go out.

Individual towers should have a good relationship with their incumbent and ideally their churchwardens. The incumbent should also foster good relations with the ringers. It is a two-way process which should be mutually beneficial. If there are problems, these should be sorted out straight away and not left to fester, and if a request of a particular piece of ringing is rejected, we mustn’t take it personally, as hopefully the next request will be accepted.

Belfry officers may be elected by the band but they are appointed by the Incumbent, in the same way as organists are. In the worst case scenario, the Incumbent can remove a tower officer, but hopefully this is a last resort. Over recent years there have many stories in the press of incumbents dismissing the organist or choir, and we can only wonder why there wasn’t discussion and dialogue before it got to that stage.

My last thought, perhaps more of a question, is how to deal with tower captains who see the tower as their personal property and are either reluctant to let others ring or positively discourage it. Do we appeal to the incumbent, who’s predecessor may have given that person such permission, or do we shrug our shoulders and, accept the status quo, and wait for the tower captain to leave. Perhaps this could the subject for a meeting between the Officers and Archdeacons?

I would be interested to hear your thoughts and hopefully further discussion.

Ian Rees

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