Saturday, 6 June 2009

Bell epoch

Don’t know about you, but I automatically assume the US is a place where courts too often defend odd and anti-social religious behaviour. So, it was nice to read a story yesterday about a US court prepared to put a church leader in his place.
It seems a Bishop in Phoenix, Arizona got a suspended 10 day jail sentence for allowing the cathedral bells to be rung every hour on the hour between 8 AM and 8 PM. He’s also been told to restrict chimes in future to no more than 60 decibels for two minutes on Sundays and specific religious holidays.
I found the story on the Metro ‘weird news’ page at, which is itself weird, because if anything this was an example of rational legal action which I only wish we could emulate over here.
We had a mini version of this row in Peel a decade ago. A couple of recently retired doctors, both keen bellringers, moved there and led a millennium campaign to get a new set of bells and a bellringing team for the cathedral. Nice enough folk in a charming, slightly eccentric way, as I found when I was sent to interview them.
The trouble started when they got their volunteers into serious training. Especially when, instead of just going through the motions, they had full scale early evening weekday bellringing practices.
Like the church authorities, they probably assumed the townspeople were at least passive Christians and would like a ‘traditional’ English pastime being introduced. Some didn’t, and one near neighbour to the cathedral wrote anonymously to Peel Commissioners (town council) to complain.
This got a mention at the monthly Commissioners meeting, and blown out of proportion. I know the complainant wrote politely enough in the hope something could be sorted out. In public the Commissioners were afraid of upsetting the religious lobby, and church leaders got quite uppity, trotting out a Daily Mail ‘Christian country’ line and refusing to acknowledge the unholy racket might be a public nuisance if you lived in the next street and just wanted to watch Corrie or have a nap.
To their credit, the campanologists were more sympathetic, and found a scheme whereby the cathedral bell ropes were wired up to a computer program. Switched one way on Sundays, pulling the rope rang the bell, switched another for practices the bell ringer pulled just as hard but instead of the real bell it triggered a computer simulation of the sound, complete with effective delay. So the bell ringers got the full experience but the neighbours didn’t get deafened.
The funny thing, which I doubt any church leader realised, is that all the computer stuff was installed by some very laid back pagan ‘teccies. In fact, I vaguely recall the atmosphere up in the bell tower was so….. relaxed that I forgot to load my camera and damn near broke my neck falling down ladders and steps on the way back from the interview.
I offer all this as a way of proving that, if folk are neighbourly instead of getting uptight about religion and rights, these things can be sorted out quietly and amicably. Or in the case of me and the pagans who led by example, so positively blissfully (ma-a-an) you go round with a silly grin for the rest of the day.

No comments: