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Benefits of Being a Church Bell Ringer
By: Jule Lane
Written: October 31, 2016
For those who live in Charleston, referred to as the “Holy City,” hearing Church bells ringing their rhythmic melodies is no surprise. For centuries, bell ringers have joined together for various reasons such as serving their churches, stimulating the mind, hearing the robust sound of the bells, and making life long connections with one another. This traditional, ultimate team co-operation has become a universal activity, as the beneficial productivity of bell ringing is not just limited to Sunday services.
Grace Church Cathedral, on 98 Wentworth St. is one of the five locations in downtown Charleston where one can practice bell ringing, along with St. Michael’s, St. Paul’s, St. Luke’s, and the Stella Maris Roman Catholic Church. Grace Church was founded in 1846, as the struc-ture was completed in 1848. Their mission statement from the Grace Church’s website can be read at their website: www.gracechurchcharleston.org
Grace Church Cathedral, on 98 Wentworth St., Downtown Charleston, SC.
Rosalie K. Crouch is one of many bell ringers who bring such a special touch to the Sunday church service at Grace Church. As a bell ring leader ringing for 22 years, she is highly in tune with the rest of her bell ringing family, knowledgeable about the complex system of the bell sets, and welcoming to those interested in her service to the church. Rosalie brings light to the uniqueness of the activity, will the uniqueness of the activity brings a reciprocating light to her life in return.
As explained by Rosalie, who has been ringing bells since the Charleston bell sets were reconstructed after Hurricane Hugo’s damages (1989), Grace Church is the only bell tower in Charleston with ten bells. The remaining three church towers hold eight bells each. Within the US, there are between 40-50 bell towers, as ringing is a very Anglican and English tradition. Bell towers are common all over the world, especially in places that have been colonized by the Eng-lish, such as Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Bell ringing is astonishingly global, as the ringers are part of a world-wide community with one another. Beginning in the 1500’s, ring-ing was traditionally utilized before the common use of clocks in order to deliver news to inhab-itants of the church’s village. Events such as births, deaths, weddings, and celebrations were an-nounced and recognized by the town thanks to the church bells and their ringers.
This photo taken from the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers website shows the bells in Howden, East York-shire, England.
Although anybody can begin ringing bells, it requires mental strength, patience, and prac-tice like any great art. Training requires a one-on-one mentoring process, as the individual must carefully learn the intricacy of the bell’s sounds along with the correct ways of handling the ropes. Once a ringer is individually guided in handling the bells, they may begin learning musi-cal methods. Sometimes, expert ringers are brought over from England to Charleston, in order to train new ringers as efficiently as possible. Those involved with the bell sets in Charleston were taught by a ringer from England for 3 months, as sometimes extremely involved Charleston ring-ers will attend churches in London to experience ringing in England. As said by Rosalie, “we do methods, we don’t do tunes in ringing, we learn the same methods so if we say to play a certain one, we all know what that is.” This way, any group of bell ringer across the state, country, or world can ring the same method while staying in synch with one another. (Check out this short action video of bell ringing at Grace Cathedral Church.)
Those who are interested in bell ringing, but think they have lack of musical qualification are in luck! As one may initially think of bell ringing as a musical skill, mathematics actually has even more involvement, as the activity deals with numbers, timing, and rhythms. Since bell ring-ers need to understand the patterns of their own bells and how they intertwine, relate, and syn-chronize with the sounds of their fellow ringers’ bells, Rosalie claims that people who have a good sense of rhythm, are musical, and like math are the best at the activity. This was a hobby she took up with her husband, as his musical background and her interest in math create the per-aperfect opportunity for the two to share time together, taking part in a common passion.
The Bell Ringing room at Grace Church Cathedral with ringers in action.
Bell ringing unites those of different churches, locations, and religions. Each community of bell ringers welcomes each other as part of their own, as Charleston’s four bell towers are common locations for visiting ringers of other countries. Bell ringers at Grace Church range in age, background, and religious denomination, as not everyone is a member of Grace Church or a follower of Christianity. Those of any faith, age, or level of ringing experience are welcomed by the tight knit community here in the Holy City to learn the art of the bells. Although people come and go from the church ringing groups, ringers are always part of the global family. Rosalie sums up the spirit of the team by saying:
“So we have people of all experiences and people of all ages, we’re a very congenial group, we go to dinner after practice and we have a lot of parties to-gether. We try and help each other through life events.”
Clearly, the bell ringers are not only invested in their talent, but their relationships with one another as well. Besides lifelong friendships, which Rosalie deems the most meaningful as-pect of her hobby, much more can be gained from the experience of team ringing. The patterns one is responsible for understanding and memorizing challenge the mind, allowing the ringer to personally learn for themselves through ringing. Rosalie compares the art to a sudoko puzzle, as bells are about learning and remembering the numerical patterns involved within a method, along with what fits together; these combined aspects present a stimulating mental challenge!
Grace Church Cathedral bell tower from the outside.
For those interested in getting involved in the art of bell ringing, or to simply find out more, you can…
-visit a tower near you when you hear bells
-look for posters in churches or on church websites for ringing activities
Rosalie’s dedication to bell ringing is inspiration to all, as after 22 years of ringing with her husband she is now a respected leader at Grace Church. When asked what she would like the community of Charleston to know about her passion, she responded:
“It’s such a great way to have this instant community of friends, and when you travel to other cities that have bell towers, you can go to their practices and they just treat you like an old friend and bring you to dinner, and instantly make connections. It’s challenging mentally and physically but I think the friendships are best thing about it [bell ringing].
Mission Statement from the Grace Church Cathedral:
“Rooted in the Episcopal Church, Grace Church is a Christian Community which cele-brates Beauty in Worship, Joy in Community and Intention in Outreach. As a place that strives to honor our Lord Jesus Christ’s echoing of the Two Great Commandments, Grace remains open to all who would enter its doors and commits each member to walk alongside the other in faith, in hope and in love.”
Special Thanks to: Rosalie K. Crouch.
Jule Lane is a senior at the College of Charleston, majoring in religious studies, and an intern for the Christian-Jewish Council of Greater Charleston (SC).
The Interfaith History behind the “Holy City”
by Madeline Jane Welch
Information courtesy of Stephen Jennings White, Sr.
Most people who pass by the Karpeles Museum on the corner of Coming and Spring Street in downtown Charleston are probably unsure about what exactly the building is. The building, a white columned old Methodist church seems oddly placed on this street corner, in the “up-and-coming” Elliotborough district of the city, which is swarming with hip college students and new local restaurants. For the curious who have ventured inside, they find out that the Karpeles Museum is a part of a collection of museums scattered throughout the country, making up the world’s largest private manuscripts and documents collection. But the curious St. James Methodist church building, which was abandoned by the congregation due to Hurricane Hugo damages and was turned into the museum in 1995, is more than just a building. To Stephen Jennings White, Sr., the executive director of the Karpeles Museum and founding director of the Charleston Historical Society, it is a symbol of the history of religious diversity in the Holy City.
White is a history buff who has taught at The College of Charleston, The Citadel, St. Andrews Academy, Bishop England, Trident Technical College, and the University of Virginia. A born and raised Charlestonian, White grew up in a house downtown on Queen Street and now resides on Smith Street. Speaking with him, he enlightened me in the history of religious tolerance in Charleston, and what the nickname of this great city, “The Holy City,” means to him.
From its founding, Charleston was a city distinct from others in the New World in that written into its charter was the principle of open religious worship for people from all religious backgrounds (except, White notes, Catholics in the city’s early history). The one responsible for this charter and principle of religious freedom was John Locke, the secretary of Lord Ashley Cooper, one of the 8 proprietors of South Carolina. The Carolinas, at the center of which was the great port city of Charleston, was the first English colony to allow total religious freedom in 1669, but did not allow Catholics to openly worship there until around 100 years later, with the passage of the Constitution of 1790. However, White, having done much research on Irish Catholics in Charleston, knows that Catholics did in fact come to Charleston before 1790, and continued to practice their religion albeit in secret. White points to the first Catholic mass we know of that was secretly practiced in Charleston on the corner of Tradd and Orange Street. In 1789 Charleston finally got its first official Catholic Church, St. Mary’s, making it the first Catholic church in the Carolinas and Georgia.
While it took a century for Catholics to be allowed to openly worship in Charleston, that they were able to do so still with little problem in the late 1700s colonial America is pretty remarkable, given the great prejudice towards Catholics in the country up until the mid twentieth century. Anglicanism was the dominant religion of early Charleston, but the city was one of the first to welcome Jews to America, with Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim synagogue being founded in 1749. The city was also welcoming to the French Huguenots, who created the oldest French Huguenot church in the country, founded in 1687. To White, Charleston was and has always been a place where Catholics, Jews, Quakers, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Methodists, and people of all religious backgrounds can live peacefully. White also cites how remarkable it is that the diversity of the city was not originally spread out into different neighborhoods but instead very integrated. He cites the Ansonborough district in the mid-1800s as an example of this, with the city’s 1860 census showing the area occupied by a mix of lower middle class Germans, Irish, and freed blacks. Growing up on Queen Street in the 1960s, White says, was also this way, with a mix of folks from all ethnic groups in his neighborhood.
Charleston is commonly thought of by tourists and locals alike as the “Holy City” due to the prominent number of church steeples that decorate the city’s outline. But to Stephen Jennings White, Sr., Charleston is the “Holy City” because it celebrates and welcomes those who practice all religions. The nature of Charleston as a port city was that it was fertile ground which allowed for the mixing of religious identities and exposure to new things. Charleston was founded and is today still known for its ability to mesh values of southern hospitality and communal unity with respect and openness towards diversity. To White, the “Holy City” is not just about the beautiful, old churches like St. James Methodist that dot the skyline of Charleston, but the thriving legacy of religious diversity the city provides.
November 13, 2015
Stephen Jennings White, Sr.
Our first blog entry deals with Biblical Illiteracy. The Christian-Jewish Council held a program on this subject on March 7, 2013 Many of us are not knowledgeable or unsure of the Biblical texts for our faith. This should not be an embarrassment or an admitted gap in our learning. On the contrary, it represents an opportunity to learn about these treasured texts and what is important to each of us.
Our speaker at that program was Dr. Jim Pitts, a retired Baptist minister, university chaplain and Professor Emeritus from Forman University. Jim was kind enough to leave us with a useful Religious Literacy Quiz from Stephen Prothero of Boston University. Please see it below, print out, answer and save. We will publish answers in one week on the same Facebook page.
RELIGIOUS LITERACY QUIZ
STEPHEN PROTHERO, BOSTON UNIVERSITY
1. Name the Four Gospels. List as many as you can.
2. Name a sacred text of Hinduism.
3. Name the holy book of Islam.
4. Where, according to the Bible, was Jesus born?
5. George Bush spoke in his first inaugural of the Jericho road. What Bible story was he invoking?
6. What are the first five books of the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Old Testament?
7. What is the Golden Rule?
8. "God helps those who help themselves." Is this in the Bible? If so, where?
9. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God." Does this appear in the Bible? If so, where?
10. Name the Ten Commandments. List as many as you can.
11. Name the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.
12. What are the seven sacraments of Catholicism? List as many as you can.
13. The First Amendment says two things about religion, each in its own "clause." What are the two religion clauses of the First Amendment?
14. What is Ramadan? In what religion is it celebrated?
15. Match the Bible characters with the stories in which they appear. (Draw a line from one to the other; some characters may be matched with more than one story or vice versa.)
Adam and Eve Exodus
Paul Binding of Isaac
Moses Olive Branch
Noah Garden of Eden
Jesus Parting of the Red Sea
Abraham Road to Damascus
Serpent Garden of Gethsemane