Ringers as a reminder of God
AGM of the Marlborough Branch of the Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers
It was lovely to be able to lead a short service preceding the AGM of the Marlborough Branch of the Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in October. Some of the ringers had come from a wedding earlier in the afternoon, whereas others had travelled from Dorset to Marlborough to join the local ringers.
Thinking about a Bible reading appropriate for the afternoon, obviously there are no direct references to bell ringing in Scripture, as there were no bell towers in early Christianity. Moreover, change ringing – the art of ringing a set of tuned bells – is typical English, starting after the invention of full-circle ringing in seventeenth century England. There is only one such bell tower on the Continent, which is situated in ‘t Klockhuys in Dordrecht.
Instead, I chose a reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, in which Paul discusses a whole range of spiritual gifts and services. It may be a push to say that bell ringing is a spiritual gift, but it is certainly a service and a gift. Bells are rung at important moments in the Christian calendar, such as on Sunday mornings and on Christmas eve. They are rung at important moments in the life of our nation, such as on Remembrance Sunday. And they are rung at significant moments in people’s lives: funerals and, of course, weddings. Often the first thing a bride and groom would like to know is whether the bell ringers are available.
But maybe on a more profound level, I think that bell ringers tell us something about how God works in this world – and please don’t take this analogy too far! Although we often hear the bells being rung, we only very rarely see the people ringing them. In most churches, the bell ringers are hidden from our sight. In the same way, I would like to suggest, do we often experience God. Not directly, but through what we see and hear around us.
Not that many people have had a direct experience from God, although of course some have. However, most of us who call ourselves believers, or Christians, will have seen the ‘effect’ of God in the world. Through the beauty of nature, through a beautiful work of art, or through the kindness of others. So, although we don’t see God directly, we know that he is there, because His presence resonates throughout the universe.
Hence, bell ringers don’t only remind us of the presence of the Church, but even more so, of the presence of God in this world. And that is an invaluable gift. So maybe next time you see a bell ringer, say thank you to her or him for reminding us. Or even, next time when you hear the bells rung, say thank you to God for His presence and His gifts to each of us.