Ringing out over Cape Cod Bay!
If you were to drive to a small fishing "village" called Rock Harbor on Cape Cod, MA, you might experience something unexpected - the sound of bells, and I don't mean the kind on buoys! Looking up you would see the upper section of a lovely stone Bell Tower, which houses 10 Change-ringing bells.
The Church of the Transfiguration at the Community of Jesus in Orleans has just this past August finished its 100 foot bell tower and hung 10 beautiful Whitechapel bells. I am not at all ashamed to say how proud we are of this feat, - the culmination of a more than 12-year building plan which began with our church. (A video of of the project is available here.)
There is a sense of great excitement among our whole Community about these bells and their future with us. We are starting completely from "scratch" - total novices at this type of bell ringing. Thirty-seven of us signed up to ring - that is three bands of 10 with seven alternates. You can see from that alone how much enthusiasm there is among us!
We realize we have quite a challenge before us. None of us had a clue what was involved when we signed up to ring, only that we very much wanted to be a part of this. Neil Thomas, from Whitechapel, was with us for a few weeks to hang the bells and then spent as much time as he could teaching us rope handling. With such a large group of beginners, ranging in age from 14 to 70, he had his work cut out, but he quickly spread his passion and love of ringing to every single one of us. None of us could wait to get our chance to ring. By the time Neil had to return to England, he had five of us ringing on our own and 2 able to ring the bells up and down. We also had three Tower Captains (one for each band), a Ringing Master, and a Steeple Keeper. He spent time with those of us in those positions, helping us to understand our various responsibilities and roles. Neil also introduced us to the bell ringers in Boston, which has proven an absolutely invaluable connection.
Upon Neil's departure, we now had in front of us a goal which would soon be upon us. September 27th had been set for the celebration of the bells and the first ringing with all the sound control elements off. If we possibly could, we wanted to pull the first strokes ourselves, which would mean trying rounds with ten of us. With Neil gone, we needed a teacher and found ourselves very fortunate, through our contact with the Advent Guild of Bell Ringers and the MIT ringers in Boston, to have Ed Futcher agree to help us. The rest of the ringers were all very enthusiastic about working with us as well. We soon identified ten of our group whom we thought, with Ed's input, could advance to ring on the 27th. Every Thursday night for the month of September a group of 5 or 6 of us would go to Boston and join in their practice, receiving loads of encouragement and help. Ed made numerous visits to us as well, with a few others from time to time, and we found ourselves ringing rounds - and discovering how difficult it is to control the timing! We certainly weren't perfect, but we did ring on the 27th, and then handed the ropes over to our Boston friends who had come to celebrate with us and ring some changes for all to hear.
The learning continues...Some of our members are still traveling to Boston weekly to get more help there and Ed spent a whole Saturday with us recently. We had a helpful, although at times hysterical, session on call changes that day, while the rain poured outside. A few of our ringers have been off on a choir tour, and I just received some emails from them about their experience ringing in Little Rock, Arkansas. They had a wonderful time and were welcomed so warmly and given a ton of help. Six of us made it to the Area Meeting in Brewster, NY and Kent, CT on October 17th which was a terrific experience. It was great to meet more bell ringers from this area and to receive further instruction and coaching, as well as the opportunity to ring in other towers on different weight bells.
We are on the new NAG website and welcome any visitors, so please do contact us if you wish to come. In the meantime, we shall be pushing on in our pursuit of bell ringing!