Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Financial Crisis: Ringing changes

Sunday morning with brilliant sunshine amidst all the financial doom and gloom, at Winslow for the rededication of their ring of 8 bells — a considerable collaborative effort by bellringers and friends. They’ve been ringing at St Laurence for at least 400 years, but things rather declined in the nineties. During the run-up to the Millennium, Margaret Lowery raised a new band of ringers, and the frame has now been made safe and everything tuned up properly so that they’re a joy to ring as well as to hear. Manhandling the tenor bell up the tower felt like stuffing a small family car, or a hippo, up in the attic!

Change ringing (“ringing changes”) is a wonderful thing, in itself, to do in times of turmoil. You have to get things in perspective. There was life before Canary Wharf. Our society is heavily into panic and whining, but the fashion will pass. Winslow’s bells rang out the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the restoration of the Monarchy after the Civil War, Waterloo, Queen Victoria’s Death, the defeat of Hitler...

In the sermon I said:
A Light bulb joke. It’s about change. “How many English Heritage Inspectors does it take to change a light bulb?” And the answer is: “Change?” Hysterical fear of Change is slow death. So is nostalgia. Living tradition is far more than custom. It makes and remakes itself in us all the time, by the living Spirit. The Christian tradition can never be set in concrete without losing its heart, its driving force, its living logic.

Every possible change is not, of course, good. It would be silly to wally up this building, paint it red and trash it, but if the sentimentality and history that get parked here ever take over, it will end up as a theme park. The prime aim of Christianity is not to preserve ancient buildings, but to express God’s eternal love in our lives, that we may love him and love our neighbours as ourselves. Parish Churches represent, as they always have, a living tradition, a people called to be changed into God’s image day by day as they are made and remade. The building and its renewal is a window into our souls

In Church, at home, in society, how do we cope with change, our fear and fasconation about it? It’s a good question as various financial chickens come home to roost. How do we handle change aright — so that it blesses us, rather than cheapening our lives?

The music of bells offers a clue. Here is the Grove dictionary of music and musicians: Change Ringing
... is an art, peculiarly English and producing a music all its own.
Here’s the Oxford Companion to Music: Change Ringing
is not so much a branch of music as
mathematics athletically applied to the making of a merry noise.
Except of course, it isn’t always merry. The passing bell or half muffled peal is not merry. It has depth, as well as order. Ringing is a kind of abstract music; music that is musical not because of the tune, but because it reflects the order and coherence of the universe itself. That makes it a very special kind of music.

Change ringing is Mathematics athletically applied to the making of music. The courses rung here today are as true and as beautiful, mathematically, as they were in 1870 or 1770 or 1670. Their logic reflects the ordering of everything, through the beauty of mathematics.

I remember someone in may last parish saying the ringing of bells made her feel safe. There is a profound and simple logic underlying change ringing. Through it and over it people ring out millions of possibilities with an ordered yet incredible variety, a dancing brilliant logic, changes in hundreds and thousands.

If 0nly our lives could be made such creative, abstract yet ordered music. Overwhelmed by change, often fascinated and fearful, how can we learn to respect the ground bass of everything, which is love, whilst at the same time embracing the dancing logic of life that brings infinite change in its courses, the passion to find new ways of living which connect with people as they are and express in personal terms the life to which Jesus Christ calls us? That is the heart of the matter. The Church is not a club to preserve some set of doctrines or principles, or a kind of national trust. The health of the church comes from our capacity to express the call of the kingdom as a way of life; with our words and acts to weave traditionally ordered but infinitely changeful new music, with its own truthful, dancing and creative logic.
PS: Belinda Searle-Barnes is doing a great job as Vicar, and I was really happy to welcome Ann Harwood as newly ordained curate to the benefice.

PPS: They also have a fabulous choir at Winslow, who did us proud. We sang Vaughan Williams, and Graham Kendrick, joyfully. It’s the Anglican way.

1 comment:

Ann said...

Great story - we linked it to Episcopal Cafe.

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