Thought for the Week 22nd February 2022

The music of the bells

There have been a number of interesting letters in The Ringing World recently about ringing songs, including a copy of the music for one song. This prompted me to think about ringing hymns, and a search of Google revealed that many such hymns are available, with words often set to well-known hymn tunes, making them easier to sing at ringers’ services.

There is one hymn which has always been a favourite of mine, because I remember singing it in church as a boy. It is, “When morning gilds the skies, my heart awakening cries, ‘May Jesus Christ be praised!’” This anonymous German hymn from the early nineteenth century has a number of translations into English. Sadly it is a hymn which seems to have gone out of fashion and is no longer found in many hymn books. 

The translation I like is by Edward Caswall and is found in the Revised Church Hymnary of the Church of Scotland from 1927, set to the tune ‘Laudes Domini’ by Joseph Barnby. In the second verse it reads, 

“Whene’er the sweet church bell peals over hill and dell, May Jesus Christ be praised!’ O hark to what it sings, as joyously it rings, ‘May Jesus Christ be praised!’”

This reminds us of the main reason for ringing church bells. They call people to come together to worship and praise the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Saviour of the world.

The Scriptures constantly encourage us to sing praises and make music to the name of the Lord. A prime example is Psalm 150, where we are called to ‘Praise the Lord in his sanctuary, with the sounding of the trumpet, with the harp and lyre, with strings and flutes, with resounding cymbals’ (perhaps the nearest we get in the Psalter to ringing bells – I have deliberately left out the line about ‘clashing cymbals’ as that might be too descriptive of some of our ringing!). Music is a gift from God. In making music to the Lord we are giving him praise and glory. God is musical and we are created in his image. The prophet Zephaniah tells us, “The Lord your God is with you, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17) How grateful we are to those who have given us the words and music of our hymns that help us to praise the Lord. How grateful we are to those who made and installed the bells in our church towers. May the music of the bells always ring out to the praise of our Lord Jesus Christ and the glory of his name.

Revd George G Cringles

A retired minister of the Church of Scotland and a member of the Guild of Clerical Ringers