by Jeremy Sierra
In June, students from Leadership and Public Service High School rang Trinity’s bells for friends and family at their graduation ceremony in Trinity Church. Under the tutelage of parishioner Tony Furnivall, they have been learning to control the change-ringing bells
, which is no easy task.
Change ringing requires considerable training and skill, and is much more than simply pulling on the ropes that hang in the bell tower. “The bells are unruly creatures,” said Furnivall, who learned to change ring when he was 16. He has been ringing at Trinity since the set of twelve bells was installed in 2006. The bells range from 600 to 2,400 pounds and swing a full 360 degrees. “You have to learn to coax it and cajole it and to make it do what you want.”
The idea for a bell-ringing course originated with the Rt. Rev. Catherine Roskam, Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of New York. She approached Furnivall one day and asked, “Could bell-ringing qualify as gym?”
A few months later, Anita Chan, Associate Director of Faith in Action, and Ariella Louie, Program Assistant, met with the principal of the high school, who explained that the school did not have enough gym courses to offer the seniors this year. The bell ringing course struck them as an opportunity for a new partnership within Trinity’s All Our Children
initiative, which partners churches and public schools.
“We were excited because it went along with the All Our Children initiative goal of supporting our local public schools and creating connections by offering the resources that the church had to offer,” said Louie.
The students met twice a week during the school year beginning in November, receiving school credit and gaining a skill that few in America possess. There are only 54 towers with change-ringing bells in North America, located mostly in churches and some academic settings.
The Trinity staff members and Furnivall hope the program can be implemented at other churches with change-ringing bells. Furnivall, who is a member of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, spoke at a meeting in England about the class and how to attract young ringers.
His advice, which he got from the students themselves, was to take the church out of it. “Teenagers are on their own spiritual journey,” he said, and at that point most are naturally rebellious. He believes they’ll come back to church when they’re ready. “You’ve got to plant the seed,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t grow in your yard, it will grow somewhere.”
Even those who aren’t interested in organized religion enjoy spending their time in the bell tower, with its arches and doors reminiscent of a scene from Harry Potter.
His other piece of advice was to give the students responsibility. “At that age teenagers are really about gaining respect from adults and responsibility and authority,” said Furnivall.
Ringing a huge metal bell is a big responsibility, especially change-ringing bells. “We basically have the bells upside down, an unstable position,” explained Furnivall. It takes work and skill to get them in this position without losing control.
The students can now ring rounds, a repeated descending scale. At the graduation five seniors and Furnivall performed rounds, as well as call changes in which Furnivall called out changes in the sequence.
“Our hope is that every year they will ring for graduation and it will become a school tradition,” said Ariella Louie.
It has been a rewarding experience for Furnivall and the students. “It’s a very intense experience, and they begin to open up,” said Furnivall. “They’ve got their own thoughts, feelings, opinions, concerns and they feel comfortable talking about that. There is no bigger reward than that.”
Jeremy Sierra is Managing Editor for Trinity Wall Street.