photo: St. Andrews bell-ringing society at the pull ropes.

The Bells of St. Andrews

What does St. Andrews have that no one else in Hawaii has? In fact, that no other American church west of the Mississippi has? Change-ringing bells! And who does the ringing: a team of trained professionals? or a machine? No, a group of lay volunteers, people just like you. People who, a few years ago, had never heard of change-ringing. People who, like you, thought the ringing of the bells was a mighty but senseless tumble of sound. Now we’re the ones making that noise, and it makes a lot more sense to us. We love it, and we’d love it if you would join us and learn to do it too.

It takes a while to learn to ring these bells. You see, the smallest of the eight weighs about 600 pounds, and the biggest one weighs close to a ton. Each bell is rung by one person, pulling it by a rope. You don’t have to be that strong: some very clever seventeenth-century engineering to makes it relatively easy. If you ask us how it works we are liable to go on and on, because we find it so fascinating. But to make a long story short, we get our bell-behemoth balanced upside down. Then a firm pull on the rope swings it all the way around and, if the pull was just right, upside-down again on the other side. That’s one “bong.” That’s bell handling and anyone can learn it. Of course some learn it more easily than others. Kids learn best of all, though they have to be about 10 to be strong enough and heavy enough to do it. So come on up and try. Yes, up: 50 spiral stone steps up the bell tower.

The trouble is, there are only eight of us. That is enough to ring the eight bells, and we are all deeply committed to ringing at St. Andrew’s. But when someone can’t come, our numbers drop. Four people, four bells, is the minimum for change-ringing, and it’s not as glorious as eight. So we need more people to learn to ring, if the bells are to keep sending out their call to worship.

All February [2013 —ed.] we have a visiting teacher from England, so it’s a great time to learn. We have a local teacher too, and when he’s not off-island he’s happy to arrange lessons by appointment. You can arrange a tour by appointment too. But in February, just come up to look, listen, and learn. We ring before Evensong on Sundays, 5-5:25. We can’t teach while ringing the call to worship, but come to our practice sessions, Tuesdays 6-7:30. Come at 6! We’ll be expecting you.

Next time: Those sure aren’t tunes!

Ringers at St Andrew's Hl

Front row L to R: Helen Pettet (guest ringer from Melbourne, Australia), Lynn Albrecht. Alice Herring, Helen Besenbruch, Sasha Bley-Vroman, Pam Verrey
Back row L to R: Susan Anderson, Brian Pettet (guest ringer from Melbourne, Australia), Walt Herring

Visit the Cathedral Bells page for more information.