About Faithful Friar

I am a 20+ year member of the Community of Jesus Brotherhood, so I live in the Friary with the other vowed brothers along with any novices or combination of guest/ resident men – young or old – who may be with us at any given time. Our vows are the same as any simple or solemnly professed Community member, with the addition of consecrated celibacy and poverty. I moved here shortly out of high school to study music for a summer. At the end of that summer I chose to stay here as a CJ member. Shortly thereafter I knew another change was needed, and asked to be accepted into the brotherhood first as a postulant, later as a novice. My life in the Brotherhood involves a variety of occupations, but they are centered on the continual service of prayer and praise in our church and on the outreach ministries springing from that service. This means manual labor as well as ongoing study and training: theological, musical, technical/ scientific, artistic, historical, philosophical, etc. Sometimes this involves teaching others, so that is part of our life too. It’s a life of poverty and yet full of hidden riches.

The Influence of the Bells

by Faithful Friar

This year, Spirit Winter Percussion has incorporated handbells into their show, “The Etchings of a Soul: A Russian Illustration.”

It made me think about the history of church bells in Russia, how they were silenced and became the object of continuous attacks. How difficult that must have been for the people who loved and appreciated their bells so much.

I found an article that stated in old times when there was an epidemic or terrible devastation, bad harvest, and other calamities, it was prescribed to continuously ring the church bells. In recent scientific studies, it shows the timbre and vibrations of bell ringing influences the entire living world around us. In the days of old, they commented that even mice, rats, and some insects feared it. Hating the sound of the bells, many carriers of diseases would run away further from the belfry and populated areas. The clear, purifying sound the church bells make exerts good influences also on people. This is one of the reasons the Russians loved bells so much. In these days where there is so much division and strife, perhaps the beauty of the sound of the ringing bells will help to clean our souls from spite, envy and impatience which will help us to live a better life.

Are you sleeping?

by Faithful Friar

Did you ever learn the translation to the childhood song “Frère Jacques?”  It hit me as we were ringing bells in our tower one night to mark the end of Vespers. The literal translation goes something like this: Brother John, are you sleeping? Sound the bell for Matins! Ding, Dang, Dong! This dates back to the duty of the monks to ring the “pre-service” bell to alert their communities to the service that will begin shortly. Poor Brother John must have been very tired because he slept heavily and ignored his sonorous duty to his Brothers! We have our own Brother John in our Community, and he is often responsible for ringing the pre-service bell! (So far he hasn’t slept through his commitment.) We ring the bell prior to our Midday Office and Vespers services.   

The tune for Frère Jacques was first published around 1780 in France, and the words were first seen in 1825. The tune is so familiar as to be claimed as a national folk song in many countries around the world, with Frère Jacques’ name changed to fit the country….Bruder Jakob,  Fra’Martino,  Panie Janie, and Mester Jakob to name a few.

So, whenever Br. John rings our pre-service bell, we are fitting right in with years of “Frère Jacques” tradition!   


High Stakes Teamwork

by Faithful Friar

This year our bell ringing band plans to attempt our first “peal”. This is a big deal. Our tower holds 10 bells and we’re working on learning “Grandsire Caters” for the attempt. The peal must include over 5000 “changes” (a change in the order of bells each round) and typically takes at least 3 hours to ring. Peals are often rung to mark major celebrations. Having the capability within our local band to attempt a peal is significant and cause for celebration.

Grandsire Caters Grid

Grandsire Caters Grid from the Bell Tower at the Church of the Transfiguration at the Community of Jesus

Each ringer will learn the patterns for each colored line above, and a conductor will learn how to “call” and direct the attempt using “Bobs” and “Singles” shown on the right.

It takes years to learn how to ring. Most of the ringers in the peal band began learning in 2009 when the bells were installed. The first stage involves simply understanding how to control the bell, often referred to as “handling”. Next, we begin to learn patterns and methods. Enough of our band is at this stage where we can now attempt a peal in 2017. Attempting a peal will be a significant and exciting milestone.

There is an interesting aspect to the ringing language used in the tower, specifically the word “attempt”. We never say, “we’re going to ring a peal”, always “attempt a peal”. I think it underscores the challenging nature of a peal. If any one of the ringers “gets lost”, makes a mistake in the patterns, over the 3 hours of ringing, we will not have rung a peal. So, the stakes are fairly high for each ringer to stay focused and learn the patterns as best as possible. During the attempt, ringers often help each other stay on track, giving a nod here, a look there. Subtle affirmations point to advanced levels of teamwork and encourage success.  We very much hope our attempt is successful and look forward to hearing a celebratory peal attempt ringing out over Cape Cod Bay.

News from the Bell Tower

by Faithful Friar

We had the privilege last week of having 2 interesting guests drop in to see our bells and our tower: Benjamin Sunderlin and his wife, Kate. It’s not often that people come to Cape Cod in the bleak midwinter, and even more seldom when they are interested in and knowledgeable about bells! They are the owners of B.A. Sunderlin Bell Foundry in Ruther Glen, VA, which is a “full service foundry that provides the highest quality, traditionally made, bronze bells in the States.” It was nice to show someone our bells and have them appreciate the way they were made and the sounds that they make – their personality!  Ben’s interest in bells has taken him all over the world in order to research the different techniques for bell making. They have the unusual ability to cast bells right in your yard or parking lot and turn this experience into a cultural event for the local community, complete with a lesson on the history and craft of bell casting.

I logged on to the Sunderlin Foundry website and watched the sad video on “The Death of a Bell”…don’t miss it if you are a bell ringer and need a new found appreciation of  how bells contribute to the voice of the church, and how we as bell ringers should bring out the best in our monolithic instruments! Don’t miss the brief video on Benjamin as “Notre Dame’s Bell Maker” and find out why he describes a bell as a “culturally charged object”!

Our best wishes accompany them both on their ambitious and much needed vocation.  Thanks for stopping by!


Ben Sunderlin (above) and Kate Sunderlin (right) at work in Ruther Glen, VA. Images courtesy of B.A. Sunderlin Bellfoundry Facebook page.


Ringing in the New Year 2017

by Faithful Friar

The symbolism inherent in bell-ringing is never clearer than when we “ring in” each new year. Combining the celebratory and the chronological elements perfectly as they do, it’s a privilege to participate in the midnight ringing Dec. 31st, even if it seems the whole world (i.e. sleepy Cape Cod) is abed. Members of our Community of Jesus ringing band began as usual with rounds on the 10 tuned bells in our tower, and one by one the upper bells were stood until only the lowest tenor bell remained to strike 12 blows at midnight. Then all joined back in for some festive called changes.

It is well to reflect at times like this how much God has blessed us both individually and corporately. We each have a testimony of his love and care in the circumstances of our lives. And yet we are called together in our various circles, and we have to listen and pull our ropes as intrepidly as we may, sounding out in as good a sequence as we can manage whatever signal call the Lord allows us to make. The ringing of our church bells at daily service times happens to be among the loudest such signal; so again it is a privilege as well as a responsibility to participate!

Follow this link to see a video of some of our ringing!

Bell Tower at the Church of the Transfiguration at the Community of Jesus, New Year's Night 2017

Why do bells sound different in the cold?

by Faithful Friar
Friday was cold. Orleans was as low as 16 Fahrenheit (-9 Celsius) that morning. So I thought I’d write about how awesome the bells sound in the cold. But first, why do the bells sound different in the cold? Of course Cape Cod is quieter in the winter, less people, animals are for the most part huddled away or at least quiet in their winter foraging. However, there’s more to it, specifically, the concept of sound refraction. Here’s a quick physics 101 on sound refraction!
During the winter it’s common for pockets of colder air to form near the ground. And it turns out, sound travels faster in hot air, or we could also say, slower in cooler denser air. The difference we hear during the winter in long distance sound is often due to sound refraction. Sound refraction is similar to visual refraction which causes mirages in the desert or on hot pavement during the summer. If you’re a physics buff or need a little more explanation on refraction I’d recommend taking a look at Snell’s Law. For the rest of us, here’s an illustration showing sound travelling from the bell tower towards two cold Cape Codders:
An illustration of the physics behind bell tower sound in the cold on Cape Cod, from the Church of the Transfiguration at the Community of Jesus
As the sound travels from cold air at ground level, through a layer of warmer air above, the waves are bent back towards earth and our ears. The result: we hear more bell sound!
So even though our hands are barely warm enough to hold the rope, ringing in the winter sure can sound great. My favorite bell sounds, outside of good even striking (proper rhythm from all the ringers), are on a cold winter night, maybe even with a bit of fog or snow to muffle out everything else.

Reclaiming the Voice of the Bells

by Faithful Friar

The organ has been called the voice of the church. The bells are an exterior voice of the church, and are considered part of the worship. The bells are rung to call people to worship, in times of praise and celebration, in times of mourning, and when members take vows.

Recently, a peal of bells was rung for the first time in over two years in the Northern Iraq town of Bartella after they recaptured it. Bartella was once home to thousands of Assyrian Christians who fled after the Islamic State seized control as part of a lightning blitz in the area.

St. Matthew’s Church had had the crosses removed from the steeples and the bell tower and the religious statues defaced. What a joyous occasion to be able to ring the bells after reclaiming the town.

Read more about Bartella: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-bartella-idUSKCN12L2HU

Ringing for “Ogni Santi”

by Faithful Friar

Last week at the feast of All Saints part of our ringing band at the Church of the Transfiguation rang some plain courses of Stedman doubles for the very first time to help celebrate the day with special ringing. Plain courses are the basic pattern of a method without having any calls from a conductor to swap individual bells onto different tracks in order to extend it. The Stedman pattern (“method” – technically a “principle”) is one of the most ancient compositions in English change-ringing and is also considered among the most pretty or tuneful. Our rendition may not quite have reached that level, but it’s a start (literally)!
Ringing for All Saints put me in mind of being stationed at our community’s mission house in Barga, Italy last year (Villa Via Sacra, whose purpose is to house and host outreaches in sacred art and spirituality). All Saints — Ogni Santi — is a huge feast in Italy where families unite to honor their dear departed with the most elaborate floral displays in all their cemeteries. And as one might expect the campanelli (bell ringers) in Italy’s churches have developed special and elaborate ringing traditions for it as well.
I was privileged to do some simple ringing with members of the Barga band in the belfry of its main church (Duomo) near the villa. It is a venerable tradition over there, and every church small or great has its gruppo campanile. Attached is a video showing my 2 Italian ringing teachers Christian and Franco performing their style of All Saints ringing in the Duomo campanile. With all of life’s uncertainties it’s good to find oneself in a stream of tradition. And hopefully the ringing itself can encourage others!


by Faithful Friar

While reading her favorite book to a blind, elderly friend of mine, I came across this description of bell ringing in their little town of Church Enstone in England in the early 1900’s. It seemed especially appropriate as we approach the time of All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints’ Day…..

As soon as anybody died the family ‘ud send for Thomas to toll the church bell. Our St. Kenelm’s has six bells. They was recast in 1831 but some retain their original inscriptions. Thomas’s favourite was ‘I to the church the living call, and to the grave do summon all.’ It were widely believed in the old days that the sound of bells ‘broke the power of lightnings’ and ‘drove away thunder’, and that the air were the Great Highway of evil spirits waiting to snatch the soul of a dead person before it could reach the haven of heaven. Thomas’ tolling kept ‘em all at bay. He’d let you know which soul had fled by giving three lone knells before tolling regular for a man, two lone knells before tolling for a woman, and one for a child. How long he went on tolling ‘ud tell everybody the status of the dead person in the parish. Thomas were a proper ringer, tolling full-bell, ringing on the sally. If he warn’t able to ring, swinging the whole bell, he’d tie the rope on the clapper for a volunteer toller to hit the clapper against the bell, waiting a whole minute between claps for the note to die away. I done that for him many a time.


The Parish Church of St. Kenelm’s, Enstone

(If you’d like to read more, see Lifting the Latch by Sheila Stewart, Oxford University Press, 1987)

Full Peal!

by Faithful Friar

One very nice feature of learning and taking an active part in the art and exercise of change-ringing is that you are going to become a host to visitors. In this it is not unlike the Benedictine life here in the Community of Jesus. Our founders Mother Cay and Mother Judy exemplified this practice, and in his rule St. Benedict speaks at length about welcoming guests with due hospitality. Monastic communities emphasize this charism as a means of living out the Gospel. In a similar fashion, change-ringing towers and the bands of ringers in them should expect travelers who happen to be ringers to show up on your doorstep. There are guidelines and protocols to govern how it should happen, but the first principle is to accept that it will and to welcome it.
This weekend we have the joy and privilege of having an entire band of 10 ringers coming to attempt a full peal in the tower at the Church of the Transfiguration. This means they will ring a composition or arrangement of a particular known method (pattern of movement, exactly how the bells should weave in and out of each other). Each ringer must know the pattern by heart, and must also know how the pattern varies when the conductor makes a call. The calls serve to swap specific bells over onto a different track and thus extend the pattern, to avoid any repetition which is not allowed. The conductor must memorize many dozens of these calls and know exactly when to make them. If they aren’t given in the correct sequence or ringers don’t execute them properly, then it will either it go off the rails or it doesn’t come out properly at the end and the peal is “lost.” So it takes tremendous concentration and fortitude—continuous ringing/ counting for well over 3 hours. But in the process one can appreciate such concerted efforts and one can hear the marvelous sounds of bells!

Tower bells