Up in Quebec, kindred spirits–Daniel Désormiers, Steffen Jowett, François Mathieu, and Michael Rowan–are also advocating for tower bells.
A few quotes struck me. Rev. G. Malcolm Sinclair of the Metropolitan United in downtown Toronto says, “Instead of people saying, ‘We are part of this community, and the church speaks for us,’” soon, he says, the sentiment will be, “‘Who are these people and why are they making these funny noises?’ You know, I can see that coming.”
That’s true. If bells no longer speak to the values, events, and traditions of the people in the vicnity, the bells will seem like disrupters. And then the next step is not too far away–ceasing with the ringing altogether.
Related to this quote is that from François Mathieu, an artist and author of a book on Quebec’s bells: “The system whereby these ringing sounds are to be validated is very much contested because the religion is itself contested.”
If the function of bells is tied to religion, and religion itself is contested, what to do about the bells? I think the path forward for tower bells in our increasingly secularized societies is to have them ring in meaningful ways for the surrounding community, not only the church community. That’s not to say we should abolish ringing bells for services or other church-related reasons. It’s a both/and situation, not either/or. Bells can represent the voice of the church for some, and represent other values for others. Bells already ring to commemorate significant events in the United States, such as 9/11. Bells can ring for local or hyperlocal events–farmer’s markets, parades, the last day of school at the neighboring elementary school, etc.–the key is for people to feel like the bells are ringing for them–not just for the church goer.
And really, in a way, this is getting back to a particular point in time in western Europe in which bells rang for churches, but also for commerce and community. Bells rang to announce Masses, but also to mark the time, curfew, and fire alarms, among other things. The sound was sacred and secular. This, I think, is the path forward to have bells around for another millennium.