From the Bell Tower: Facing Fears with Friends

By Faithful Finch

“For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.'” Isaiah 41:13

I find it so interesting that ringing bells can be a spiritual exercise!

The other day, some of us were learning the process of “ringing the bells up.” This can be a frightening experience because if you don’t do it properly, you can have an accident. As the Lord is accustomed to doing, he taught me a lesson in the process.

I was so stuck in my fear, that I was doing things that blocked me from going forward in the process. I wasn’t breathing, my knees were locked rigid, and I couldn’t even hear Br. Matthew’s instructions he was giving me to help me. I had been quietly saying out loud, “Jesus, I trust in You. Jesus, I trust in You.”

To my surprise, all of a sudden, I found myself saying, “Br. Matthew, I trust in you.” When we stopped ringing, I had a good laugh with those ringing with me, but realized, sometimes my lack of trust isn’t just a lack of trusting Jesus. It’s not trusting my friends around me that want to help and that the Lord has put there for me. I realized I allow my fear to block myself from going forward. Things don’t always have to be as difficult as I allow my own sin to make them.

What a great lesson!

Ringers at the bell tower, Church of the Transfiguration

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:

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


by Faithful Friar

Whenever someone asks what I like about bell ringing, the first thing that pops into my head is “talking to God”. I figure there’s pretty much a guarantee God hears the massive clanging bells swinging above us, and for me, ringing is an opportunity to talk to God through the bells. On a good day (and sometimes the worst too), nothing else matters in the bell tower. So, I was struck when I heard someone say— they love the bells because they have a sense of God talking to them when the bells ring. Sounds like a two-way street runs through the bell tower between God and us. There’s beauty in the symmetry of this conversation. As it turns out, there is quite a bit of symmetry in ringing as well.

We’re learning a “method” called Stedman during our ringing practices. A method is essentially an algorithm or set of instructions which create unique patterns in the ringing order of the bells. The simplest example of a method is a method called Plain Hunt. Each ringer moves their bell either quickly forward or slowly backward in the ringing order until reaching either the front or back and then reverses direction until coming round to the original order. All methods, including Stedman, are based on this concept and skills learned from the Plain Hunt method. Stedman has an additional set of rules which ringers refer to as “the work”. All the ringers have the same set of instructions, or “work”, with the exception being— as the conductor calls for the method ringing to begin or “go”, each ringer begins the work pattern at a different point in the work sequence. Below is a diagram showing the order of work with red bubbles showing where each ringer begins in the pattern:


Diagram credit to:

You’ll notice a reflection in the blue line above in the middle of the diagram. In Stedman, the pattern of work is perfectly symmetrical half way through the method. Even the different sections of the method are symmetrical. The blue line shows how each bell moves for each round. For the treble bell, or 1 bell, the ringer moves the bell slowly out from the lead position, to the second position, the third position, fourth and finally to the back in fifths position before the work begins.


Above diagrams the relationships of all the bells throughout the Stedman method, an intricate translation from sound to sight. There’s quite an opportunity in all of that for conversation with God. And the cool thing is, even though life sometimes seems far more complex than Stedman, I think He listens, understands, and cares about everything we’re saying.

Never Forget

by Faithful Friar

There is not much in this life that is more moving than to hear a bell tolling from the tower. Its mournful, rhythmic cry interrupts our self-centered lives with the demand to pay attention to something other than our busy schedules. It causes us to wonder – who died? What has happened? Who has been lost to us? We begin to count the rings, three – four – five…until we lose track because they are too numerous, or something steals our attention away.


Such was the case this last Sunday when the Anniversary of 9/11 fell on a Sunday and marked 15 years since the terror attacks on the United States. The #10 Bell in the tower at the Church of the Transfiguration began tolling at 8:46 a.m…and did so 5 more times to mark the destruction of so much that we held dear….or was it calling our community to prayer and celebrating the lives of all who arrived at the gates of heaven on that day? Was it indeed a mournful sound or a somber rejoicing? People came and went by the tower all morning, the bell weaving its sound through our sunlit Sunday. Finally, with all seated in church, the final toll began and ended at 10:28. Like a spell being broken, we were reminded once again that many lives were sacrificed that day—some were given and some were taken. We were grateful to be called to remembrance and prayed once more that we would never forget.