[Bell Historians] Re: Tower Classification required

'David Bryant' davidbryant@hotmail.co.uk [bellhistorians] bellhistorians at yahoogroups.com
Wed Apr 20 10:11:50 BST 2016

John Harrison wrote:

”When were the Objects last reviewed against the needs of the ringing community that the Council should be serving, or even against what it has been doing? For example, the headline Object is stated as: 'To promote and foster the ringing of bells for Christian prayer, worship and celebration ...' Is that the overriding service that the Council should be providing? “

I think that John raises a significant point here. Apologies if this is straying off topic a bit, but I think it is relevant in that the narrative which the CCCBR, and most of the territorial associations (most of which are based on dioceses) puts forward about bell ringing primarily being part of worship isn’t really borne out by the history or the current reality. These organisations were a Victorian attempt (often they were set up by clergy) to get control over the bellringers, and although it may have succeeded for a time it really isn’t the case now and hasn’t been for decades.

There is certainly space for debate over what bell ringing is – is it part of worship, is it a branch music, is it a sport (there was some discussion about this on Radio 3 recently), is it a folk art – or a combination of any of these factors depending on the motivation of each individual?

As an atheist, the worship aspect was irrelevant to me but like most bell ringers I paid lip service to it, and I turned out every week on Sunday mornings to ring, even if I had a hangover and it was pissing down and I really didn’t want to! it seemed a reasonable compromise to me that as they allowed access to the bells at other times, I would ring for their services. I don’t know what proportion of bell ringers are atheists or agnostics, but I am sure that it’s far, far higher than an outsider encountering organisations such as the CCCBR would assume – but most ringers pay lip service as it’s the done thing. Look at how many ringers actually attend the services they ring for to see what I mean. I see absolutely no reason why bell ringers should be expected to hold religious beliefs, but the bell ringing organisations still seem mostly determined to push it as a part of worship in a way that isn’t seen with, say, choral music, where concerts often take place in churches for no stated reason other than the music itself. You could say that in reality a lot of ringing is non-religious (back to the secular towers discussion!), which is true, but that’s not how it’s generally promoted or seen by the outside world.

There is no doubt that the Church of England is in decline (just look at attendance figures for services). Recruiting bell ringers who are members of the CofE, as often seems to be an unstated aim, is not realistic in many cases and if bell ringing is to continue then I think that it needs to move away from the “service to the church” idea and look at promoting itself for other reasons, be that as a folk art, as a sport, or whatever. Ideally new recruits need to be younger people, but among people of my age (I’m 36) and younger the attitude towards religion in general and the CofE in particular is mostly somewhere on the spectrum between complete disinterest and outright dislike. Something promoted as being primarily 'To promote and foster the ringing of bells for Christian prayer, worship and celebration ...' is not likely to appeal to them.

I think there also needs to be more of an acceptance within the church that bellringers are not all Christians. Bell ringing (and bell history) was my main hobby for around twenty years, but I gave it up as a result of the way a complaint was handled by the clergy – the reality of how they dealt with it was hugely at variance with their rhetoric, and it got to the point where I couldn’t face having anything to do with the CofE any more. The attitude of “trust us, we’re clergy and we will pray for a solution” might be acceptable to their fellow believers, but those who don’t share their beliefs will want to know what concrete action they will take in cases of complaints, etc – this, in my experience, was lacking in the case of most of them. Anyone effectively volunteering for an organisation wants to know that they will be treated fairly and this sort of attitude, along with the complete lack of any formal policies on complaints, bullying, disability discrimination, etc, frankly aren’t going to inspire confidence. I work for a charity on a much, much smaller scale than the CofE, and where volunteers are concerned we have all this covered – because they quite reasonably expect us to.

Apologies if this has strayed a bit off-topic, but I think it is relevant to the whole question of secular towers and secular ringing – in that historically and at present there really is no clear dividing line and if bell ringing as a hobby is to have a future as well as a past there needs to be more acceptance that people’s motivations vary widely. Trying to decide which towers are “secular” and which aren’t doesn’t help this at all, and seems designed to try to draw a dividing line where really there isn’t a need for one, and what one person may put on one side of a hypothetical line would be put on the other side by someone else.

David Bryant

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