Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Battle of the Bells

Most people discussing worship wars in the church don't even think about the bells.
Apparently some in Rome are:

Rome’s battle of the bells

When's the last time you heard church bells chiming, ringing, or tolling? In a movie? In a small town? Have you even heard them at a wedding recently?Now that everyone has individualized clocks and alarms, is there a need for the church belfry? Fire brigades have radios and walkie talkies, and if we have to wait til we hear church bells to alarm us of enemy troops invading, well, we're in more trouble than we bargained for.But I contend that we should Bring Back the Bells.

Here are a few reasons.

1.) They are a public announcement of a theological matter. Though bells used to communicate quite specific information based on how they were rung, they can still echo the spiritual truths taking place in a physical situation - at birth, death, or marriage, for instance. One of the most mournful funeral rites I ever witnessed was the tolling of the bells in London the day of Princess Diana's funeral. The insistent, deep, bass tolling echoed around the quiet streets and squares. It alerted the community that deep mourning should be observed. It signaled adults and children alike that a sober occasion was taking place. It allowed the masses to stop and acknowledge communal sorrow.

2.) They are a communal experience. So many personal gadgets buzz, vibrate and alarm that it is comforting to hear a church's bells ring out the hours. In one small town I lived in, I could kneel in the backyard flowerbed and hear the Catholic church's bells chime the hour. I not only knew what time it was - with hands deep in soil, I also pictured the stately church. I didn't have to be Catholic to have my mind drawn to the image of the church, and my soul settled into an eased contentment. The same church alerted the community to the passing of its members, too, when bells tolled at funerals or spun into rhythms of celebration at weddings. Not only did the church doors swing back and forth with activity, the whole town knew that things were happening at that church. What a pleasant, background witness.

3.) They are a link to our ancestors. Many are the stories anchoring our past of bells: the Christmas hymn, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," the bells that rung out in the background of an old poem about Paul Revere. Old black and white movies clang with the sound of bells awaking citizens to go fight fires. I completely support gathering churches into whatever structures is available to the community. But if you're going to build a new church, please, consider bells. One of my favorite memories from my wedding, on a cold, January evening, was hearing the bells of the church ring out in clamorous joy. There's something so lively about having access to an instrument that can make so much more noise than you yourself are able to alone.

Next time you hear about worship wars, smile, and innocently ask, "oh, something wrong with your bells"?

1 comment:

Angie said...

Have I just not been hearing them, or have the Asbury bells just not been tolling?