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Newspaper article on The Philadelphia Guild of Change Ringers

At Chestnut Hill church, they ring the night away

by Barbara Sherf

They call themselves change ringers, and they meet every Wednesday evening (1st, 3rd and 5th at St Martin’s and 2nd, 4th at St Mark’s in Center City), climb the spiral stairs to the bell tower, and ring the evening away.

On Saturday, June 13 members of the Philadelphia Guild of Change Ringers welcomed bell ringers from as far away as Rochester, New York and Connecticut to celebrate the 29th Anniversary of the hanging of the bells at St. Martin’s and the 10th anniversary of the re-dedication of St Mark’s.

In a tight 10 by 10-foot space, 13 ringers took turns at the eight bells during the morning session, many wearing their mango colored golf shirts with the Philadelphia Guild of Change Ringers logo emblazoned over their hearts.

Erdenheim resident Marie Knup got involved with the group three years ago, following her retirement as a special librarian from LTK Engineering. Knup, who now works part-time at Springfield Library, saw a course description given at the Mt. Airy Learning Tree. She had read the Dorothy Sayers book, Nine Taylors, a mystery involving bell ringers and the idea always intrigued her. “Once the four weeks were up, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue, but I still consider myself very much a novice,” she said during a break.

The group’s “Ringing Master” for almost 20 years has been Bruce Butler, who hales from the town of Cranbrook in England. He is also the former President of the North American Guild of Bell Ringers, having run in nearly 3,000 churches around the world. He and his wife, Eileen, who reside in Philadelphia, devote countless hours to the cause.

“We’ve taught blind and even deaf people how to ring,” he said. “You really just need a sense of rhythm and the ability to memorize the patterns.” Butler shared a sheet of patterns for Stedman Triples and London Surprise Minor. Each bell ringer must memorize the pattern and each starts on a different note. “It’s very rewarding…especially when you see someone like Marie (Knup) who has come so far in so short a period of time,” said Eileen.

In the tower were Mark Gosden, his wife, Elaine, and their 14-year-old son, Sam. Mark and Elaine met while ringing at a wedding back in England. “I was looking for something to do after college and I decided to take this up,” said Mark. “She was ringing on the other side of the tower and our eyes met,” he said. Elaine noted that the couple has been ringing for nearly 20 years. While their two daughters, Emma, 12, and Pippa, 9, were with them for the weekend, they have not taken up bell ringing yet. Son, Sam, said he felt very at home ringing with the adults. “I enjoy it. There are a few kids at my school who ring too.

Tom Miller of Woodstown, New Jersey, has been ringing for a decade. “There is always another level of difficulty. I’m happy with where I’m at right now,” the retired human resources manager said with a smile. Ironically, smiles don’t come naturally when the group is busy ringing. He described a model bell affixed to the wall in the tower and the difference between a handstroke and a backstroke.

“You are really concentrating and focusing on the patterns and on each other,” said Brian Zook just before their lunch break. “Ringing comes naturally to some people and some never really seem to get it.”

Chris Haller and his wife, Helen, get it. He has been ringing for over 30 years.
“You only ring as well as the least capable in a group,” he noted. “ We take turns at being the least capable,” he joked, giving everyone a good laugh. Deborah Cooper of Mount Airy grew up listening to bells in England and always wanted to ring. “I remember when I was three years old and they rang the bells when World War II was over. Bells are rung for relief and joy as well. I know that it keeps my spine in alignment.” Cooper credited longtime Chesntut Hill resident Robert Coughlin for getting the bells installed at St. Martin’s. There is a plaque on the wall noting that the 8 bells were cast in 1980 by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London. Next to it is a photo of David C. B. Mills, with the dates 1933-2002. “He was into ringing, big time,” said Cooper.

The Philadelphia Guild of Change Ringers are always eager to teach new recruits and welcome visitors at any of their practice sessions or Sunday Service ringing. Please contact Bruce Butler at 215-765-8736 or for dates and times. You may also visit www.phillyringers.com to read more about the group.

Barbara Sherf, a publicist, writer and speech coach, can be reached at .

Posted Nov 24, 2009

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