by Sue Curry Jones
Ringing church bells.
Sounding the alarm.
Ringing bells as an alarm to alert residents of special events dates back to AD 400 when Paulinus of Nola, an Italian Bishop, used bells as a venue for communicating to local villagers about the church.
The ringing of bells is still utilized today as a venue for communicating, but because of technological advances, usage has waned over the years.
Early history supports the use of church bells as a way of alerting nearby residents of a pending threat, an emergency, or of a fire in the village. Upon the tolling of bells, townspeople knew to gather at a designated location in response to the alarm.
Here are a few examples.
St. Francis of Assisi, after an unsuccessful visit with a Muslin leader, returned home concerned about the Crusades and ongoing war. In his efforts to make a difference, St. Francis urged his regional rulers to ring their church bells daily to remind believers to pray and recite verses of faith.
In 1456, Pope Callistus III ordered bell ringing at noon, for prayer. His hope was the action would bring success to the Crusades and protect villages from invasion.
In the 10th century, England and France used the tolling of church bells to sound an evening alarm, reminding villagers city gates were closing for the night.
After invention of the telegraph, church bells continued as a standard for announcing events.
For most of us, the sound of church bells arouses a sense of happiness and hope –– a feeling of good news. The ringing of bells is not only a reminder of church and prayer, but also an expression of celebration, announcing the union of a newly married couple or a special occasion.
The bells remind us that no one is alone.
Today in towns across the United States, church bells have started ringing again.
In Lewiston, Maine, the West Parish Congregational Church rings a bell every day at noon to remind people to stop and pray –– to lift up those dealing with the COVID-19.
According to the Sentinel Press, on March 25, the Christian Church Universal started ringing church bells in Clinton and Jackson counties. Each day at 11:58 a.m., the ringing of bells reminds everyone to pray for the community and world. The Church is asking participants to recite or read the Lord’s Prayer.
In Edmond, Oklahoma, the Morefield family started a movement asking residents to pray at noon. The family is requesting that everyone ring a bell and pray for the virus to go away. According to news reports, the family’s efforts have taken root. Last week neighbors and friends came out in numbers to support the noontime event. Dressed in protective gear, they rang bells and prayed for the end of the pandemic.
Recently, I heard an encouraging story about prayer. It was about a season of flooding in Ste. Genevieve, Mo. and how the residents faced the pending threat of destruction. The storyline cites that the city levy was under attack from the Mississippi River which threatened to destroy the walls protecting the town.
For several days prior to the predicted surge of water, the town church bells were used to sound the alarm each day at noon. The bells reminded residents to pray for safety and protection of families, as well as the community. The outpouring has been cited as impressive and the results positive.
At the moment when destruction seemed inevitable and the surge was within an inch or so of overpowering the town barrier, the rising waters stopped and began to recede.
A good news story, indeed.
The tradition of ringing church bells has served many purposes, and history shows how the action has been used over and over again to create unity.
Maybe it’s time for bells to ring here and remind us every day to take a prayerful moment.
A moment may simply be ringing a bell at home or office, or perhaps ringing a friend and reaching out.
Nonetheless, church bells across the country are ringing again –– they are sounding the alarm to join together in prayer.
Definitely a positive action to consider.
For bells are the voice of the church; They have tones that touch and search the hearts of young and old.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow