A recent newspaper article about a vicar who listened to the complaints of local residents objecting to the 8am church bell for Holy Communion on Sundays, reminded me of the day I moved into Binsted Vicarage with my wife and family. It was the month of January and cold rain had poured for hours. Our removals company was slow, our mattress was dropped into puddles and a favourite mirror smashed. It was a long, wearing and stressful day. Our three very young children were tired and fretful, but finally, when all our goods and chattels were safely out of the rain and inside the house and the kids were tucked up in bed, we breathed a sigh of relief.
Then suddenly, DING DONG, DING DONG DING!
It was a Thursday, it was 7.30 in the evening and the bell ringers had begun their weekly practice. Any thought of sleep fast disappeared from our children’s minds and our then 7 year old Sophie shouted downstairs ‘Can you stop that noise’ to which we explained about it being the bell ringers. She replied ‘Well Daddy’s the Vicar now, he can tell them to be quiet’. Not sure that would have gone down very well!
Immediately the proximity of the Church and its chimes was too close for comfort and we groaned as we tried to settle our young family for the night once more. So in that moment, several years ago now, I would have sympathised with the residents of Fishguard, who wanted a long lie-in on Sunday mornings and were disturbed by the bells of St Mary’s Church. It’s not unreasonable to want a good night’s sleep and the occasional extra hour or two at the weekend.
During WWII, in those pre-internet days and before everyone had access to a landline or mobile phone, all church bells were silenced and were to ring out only in the event of an invasion. But since then, when bells have fallen silent, despite the few who might have objected to the clamour, others have reacted with fury. Think of the consternation which greeted the announcement that Big Ben would be silenced while restoration is carried out. The chimes that have announced significant moments in our history and are the familiar introduction to BBC Radio’s World at One as well as every New Year, won’t ring again until 2021.
Earlier this year it was announced that church bells in England are to win protection under new planning rules. Churches around the country have often had to comply with noise abatement orders after complaints from a handful of homeowners, usually newcomers to towns and villages, despite the fact that the bells have tolled for decades. Ministers said official planning guidance in England would be changed to show that the Government is now “standing up for churches”.
So now, after living next to Holy Cross for several years, we are used to the peal of bells. When the bell ringers get going on a Sunday morning and on a Thursday evening, I’m told the distinct chimes can be heard for some distance, even as far as Wyck. The bells of our three churches have announced good times and not so good times. And I like to think that this evocative sound, soon to be officially safeguarded, reminds all who hear it that we are here, that Faith will continue to have its place in the centre of our communities in this wonderful Benefice - or as one Guild of Ringers’ prayer puts it:
O Mighty God, Who has given us the joy and responsibility of sounding your welcome from our towers; grant that faith, love and devotion may be awakened in all who hear the bells this day, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.