At Evensong on 28th July the bells were welcomed back to St Andrew's Church. The Rev Chris Painter blessed each bell in turn; Roger Desborough LLM conducted the service; Ian Courtis based the intercessions on Betjeman's Summoned by Bells and Tennyson's Ring out, Wild Bells; and the organist, Sarah Gard made an inspired choice playing Handel's Arrival of the Queen of Sheba at the end of the service as the congregation gathered to inspect the bells and sample the wonderful refreshments provided by Mary Staff. It was an occasion to remember.
It is not often that I have felt inclined to reproduce the text of a sermon, but that delivered by Roger Desborough at the Hallowing of Calstock bells deserves a wider audience so I have reproduced it in full below.
"The introduction of bells into our churches has a long and honourable history. It is believed that Paulinus, an Italian bishop introduced them around 420 AD. St Gregory of Tours is the first Christian writer who mentions them frequently and he wrote around 585 AD. They were in use all over Ireland from the 6th century and the great bell of St Patrick survives to this day in Dublin. Church bells were brought to Scotland in the 6th Century and to England in the 7th. By the 8th Century they were in widespread and accepted use. The first place to have a peal of bells rather than a single was one was Crowland Abbey, built on an island in the Fens, in the 9th Century. St Dunstan gave gifts of bells to churches all over the West of England between 924 and 988. From the 8th century bells have been blessed, usually by a bishop or his representative with Holy water and chrism or Holy oil. This ceremony was commonly known as the baptism of bells.
For many centuries now it has been customary to ring the bells to summon people to church and on other occasions as well, such as the death of a parishioner. This last practice is even laid down in Canon 67 of the Church of England. In some countries in mainland Europe and in Ireland a bell signals the Angelus three times a day. From Medieval times to the present day, it has been customary for bells to carry inscriptions, sometimes with a short quotation from Holy Scripture.
As you know, bells vary enormously in size; St Paul’s Cathedral has a 17 tonne bell from 1716 and in Cologne Cathedral there is a 27 tonner made from melted down French cannon. But it is in the parish churches, just like our own, right across the land where modest bells are to be found which are in use on a regular basis to summon folk to church and to mark other occasions, some joyful and others sad. But there is little value in having bells unless there are folk to ring them.
The Church is not just another business. It is a community of communities which operates through the parish and benefice to affirm the world wide nature and message of the Christian Faith. We are all the People of God and our central task is to be a channel of blessing to all people and to live out in a variety of ways, many of them very practical, the line from genesis: ‘Through you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed”.
We are here to celebrate the efforts and dedication of one of our communities within the wider parish community, the bell ringers. There is in every parish, as well as bell ringers, the community of the flower arrangers, the community of refreshment providers, the community of those who read the lessons, the community of Churchwardens, the community of those who minister both formally and informally, the community of those who seek to care for and help their neighbours. The list is endless and each makes a contribution in their own way, like our bell ringers, to the life and mission of the Church. Many of them inevitably overlap. But the point that we must never forget, is that together they make up the Holy Church, they are the Church and in a huge variety of ways, they contribute to the spreading of the gospel message."