In the hurriedness of a day, it can be useful to pause and reflect. Our liturgical calendar helps us remember by emphasizing the essential points in the life and work of Jesus on their various feast days and those of the Saints of the church as well. Regular calendars, of course, highlight civic events, anniversaries and holidays.
It so happens that 2019 is an anniversary year for the bell tower of the Church of the Transfiguration. Ten years ago at the dawn of 2009, the tower was about 1/2 built (not counting the very deep foundation which had been formed and reburied a couple of years earlier.) As soon as winter weather broke – probably in April – the Pizzotti crew returned to continue pushing the tower sky-ward: 60 feet, 70, big sound lantern windows installed by crane, 80 feet, 90-something feet for the top courses of block and stone. The last few feet to the peak height were taken by the timber and metal roof, again installed by crane.
Meanwhile, our CJ volunteer crews were mobilizing to blitz the laying of porphyry and bluestone pavements in and around the tower. Subject to the weather, it needed special care both in following the intricate design patterns and also to get all the pitching angles correct so water will not pool. As soon as we removed the staging from the tower walls, crews sprang into action during the first weeks of summer. No sooner was the pavement laid and sealed when a large metal shipping container arrived on a flat-bed and was offloaded (not without drama) by another crane. We unpacked all the wheels, frames for housings, headstocks and other arcane accoutrements needed to mount a set of English-style change ringing bells, and the ten beautiful new bells themselves!
How many stages and steps have come and gone in each of our lives since those days. Very hard to measure much less to enumerate. Still, it is well to stop and consider what the Good Lord has wrought among us, allowing us the great privilege of walking, working, learning (leaning) along with him in what he does. Quite amazing.
Though the title line is referring to “the Cross of Christ [in which] I glory” the reference to time – wrecks or no – is both poetic and evocative enough to be reflective of the cycles of seasons and rounds of the year within our bell tower. To begin with, this most recent time of year gratefully calls up chronological time, being that the bell tower construction and bell installations were completed in July / August 2009. Ringing lessons began right away, giving just enough time for a band of home ringers to pull ropes safely at the first public ringing on the feast of St. Michael and all Angels, Sept. 29th. These dates and events are recalled each year, and particularly this year as we approach the 10th anniversary.
What’s more, celebrating the passage of seasons is built into tower life, whether in doing special ringing (here a quarter-peal band to mark St. Michael’s)
Or in sharing in summer bounty at the homes of friends who come ring with us when here on the Cape.
The other inescapable facet of time in change-ringing comes is that as soon as one can ring safely and advances to ringing in a circle of other ringers, from that point on one is essentially counting and clocking for each pull. It is only one of the many mental/physical elements in ringing, all of which have to be learned and developed, but for good ringing, it is constant and inexorable.
The last “towering” thought does examine the “wrecks of time.” By no means unique to bell-ringing, but the physical, mental, and above all emotional demands and requirements over the long haul is always going to assure a long and distinguished list of former bell ringers. It’s true in every tower. Yet to those who by some alchemy (grace?) of time and circumstance manage to persevere, the “bane and blessing, pain and pleasure” do bring a richness both for themselves and for the many listeners.
by Faithful Friar
This past weekend for the first time a band of Community of Jesus bell ringers (pictured) were able to achieve an extended method ring in our church’s bell tower without visiting teachers or experienced ringers to help guide us. Good-sounding change ringing is a complicated business especially as you seek to extend a basic method (particular pattern of interweaving the tuned bells) by increasing either the number of bells or the length of ringing time. The complication may be traced to 2 main factors: the difficulty of learning to manage a heavy bell for both ease and precise striking, and the requirement to do it in coordination with a whole group of others. Both take a great deal of patience and perseverance, and one can see why advancing further only brings more difficulty. So why bother one may ask? Good question!…might be the reply. Two equally-connected reasons could be offered: the possibility for a tremendous satisfaction if/when the desired result is achieved, and the fact that it yields both a grand lovely sound and a sort of public witness to a hard-won unity. So even though the happy smiles in this photo are ones of anticipation before we began to ring, a photo taken 2 1/2 hours later would have revealed both stresses and strains we experienced, but also a sense of deeper contentment gained during that period of time. Enough to carry us on toward the next challenge…. (Sound familiar any of you Christians?)
by Faithful Friar
Change ringing is a team sport! Every bell tower welcomes anyone from anywhere in the world to join them. There are bellringers who plan holidays, traveling from tower to tower, making new friends, and entering the names of the towers in a bell journal. We have had bell ringing friends join us from many places all over the world. Every year our good friends, Sarah & Tom, who ring with us put on a beautiful lobster dinner for all of us at the end of the summer season — which we all enjoyed this weekend!
This side of the Atlantic, there are over 500 bell ringers in 45 towers, and a similar number in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, with a small number in South Africa. There are 40,000 ringers in almost 5,000 towers in England.
Ringing in different towers is helpful for a ringer because the bells are set differently, have different weights, and may have a different number of bells than the tower they are used to (usually there are 6, 8, or 10 bells, sometimes 12).
One of the best things about ringing bells is that all bell ringers take on the care of their fellow bell ringers to help teach them whatever they can share with them.
by Faithful Friar
Three close friends and mentors in the art/science of English style change-ringing came to be with us for 3 days this month as they have most summers since our bells were installed 8 years ago. They might be compared to “founding guides” in our lengthy process of conversion from neophyte ringers into a true band capable of ringing methods together. Earlier years saw them taking any of us who could handle a bell rope safely and placing us one at a time in their midst to guide where practically each bell stroke should be placed. Through the years as we’ve continued our own practice, repetition of service ringing, many comings and goings, ups and downs, the summer camp teachers gradually led us to doing more and more on our own until, by nearly imperceptible increments and almost to our own surprise, this year we could field enough of us to ring half a dozen quarter peals and 2 full peals during their time with us, still needing their steady ringing and guidance, but having more of us than them for the first time. Looking back on this “founding” period, it’s often felt like an exercise in blind faith, perseverance, trust. I suppose it may have felt that way to our teachers as well, but they also understood from experience how such a worthy yet highly-complex endeavor (learning to live together in community for example!) a firm hand is needed and slow simple instructions to follow. They knew the resulting satisfaction of achieving goals in company with others of like mind and purpose…maturing together in an activity impossible to accomplish on one’s own, requiring both tenacity and patience, yet ultimately rewarding both doers and hearers.
by Faithful Friar
Speaking of the 4th of July (which we all have been this week!)… Did you know that the tenor bell at the Community of Jesus bell tower was cast in the same pit in which the Liberty Bell of Philadelphia was cast 265 years ago? That’s right – in 1752, Lester and Pack (later known as Whitechapel Bell Foundry) of London, England received a commission for its creation from the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly, along with the request to have the bell lettered with, “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land to the Inhabitants Thereof” (Leviticus 25:10). The cost then was a little over 150 pounds, or the equivalent of over 21,000 pounds today.
Although there is no record of it having been rung on July 4, 1776, it was believed to have been rung on the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8th, 1776. Bells throughout the land rang in celebration of America’s newly declared freedom. The Liberty Bell weighs 2,080 pounds. It is formed from 70% copper and 25% tin, and the remaining 5% from lead, arsenic, zinc, gold and silver. John Philip Sousa, inspired by this bell’s history, composed The Liberty Bell March and debuted it on July 4th, 1893 in Chicago.
Sadly, Whitechapel Foundry closed its doors forever in May of this year. It was known as Britain’s oldest manufacturing company, established in 1570 when Elizabeth I was Queen, and they had been in continuous operation since that time. We will miss them dearly and all their help in our newly established tower. BUT, we are proud to have Whitechapel Bells in our midst, ringing every day, and equally proud of our bells’ connections to their more famous cousin, Liberty.
by Faithful Friar
Many visitors to our bell tower comment on its cleanliness, which is in part because the tower is relatively new, and also because we clean it. I mentioned to a friend about how often I hear ringers comment on the tower’s cleanliness, and she responded, “The question will be, what will they say in 100 years?”
I was thinking about 100 years of cleaning while power washing the porphyry stone floor in preparation to re-seal later this week. The trick is, I’m not expecting any of us will be here to be sure things are spic and span in 2117. Not to mention, there is actually quite a bit to do right now, this year, today even.
All this cleaning isn’t something that can be done all at once. As with so many things in life, the only way to do it is bit by bit, a little at a time. Hopefully we can make it a habit for generations.
Here are a few pictures from our cleaning times this weekend — a few angles we don’t get to see very often!
by Faithful Friar
As reported in prior posts, bell-ringers from the Community of Jesus who ring in the Church of the Transfiguration bell tower are preparing to attempt a first full peal as our own band later this year in conjunction with events marking the 5th centenary of the start of the protestant reformation. The art of English-style change ringing happens to be a direct descendant of said reformation in that following the dissolution of the monasteries in England there were untouched rings of church bells available for local young people to go ring. This became a new activity and soon spawned an interest in developing the rules and style of moving tuned bells in set ways to make patterns…”change ringing.” This is why the oldest and most prestigious associations of bell-ringers in England have in their title the word “youths”, e.g. Ancient Society of College Youths. It was only later that change ringing began to find its place back in Church of England steeples where most such rings of bells are now to be found—in other words for devotional purposes rather than purely for sport. To be sure there remains a healthy mix of both. Bell-ringers today show up Sunday after Sunday to welcome and/or send worshipers on their way. Then they meet again at a weekly “peal night” to try and “get” another peal, learning new methods along the way. Devoted ringers count their peal totals in the hundreds or even thousands. By such measures we here are at humble beginnings. Yet perhaps humble beginnings is OK since we are also tying back into the devotional monastic practices from which the whole activity sprang.
by Faithful Friar
Throughout the Triduum leading into Easter our bells ring at various times during services. At one point there is a tolling of the tenor bell, the heaviest lowest bell, a sound only heard at funerals. At another point, all the bells “fire” striking simultaneously celebrating the first “Alleluia” sung at Easter. Unlike the rest of the year, where ringing comes before or after a service, these rings come during the liturgy. In order to get the timing right, ringers attend the service until just before it’s time to head out to the tower and ring. Once in the tower, we wait for a “cue”. The “cue” in this case is the front doors of the church opening. Interestingly, the doors usually seem to take longer than expected before opening. As I was standing there, it seemed to me a microcosm of Easter. Here we are standing in the tower, looking out at closed doors, wondering what is happening inside, knowing the doors will open…and waiting. And of course what follows but a cacophony of clangorous celebration. He is Risen!