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The rededication service on Sunday 23rd January marked the successful conclusion of the bell restoration, and a lot of hard work and dedication by many people. The Bishop of Reading, Rt. Revd. Stephen Cottrell came to perform the dedication – his first since becoming a Bishop. The congregation of about 130 included many visitors. Among them were local VIPs, including the Mayor, the chairman of Wokingham District and our MP, and clergy from other local churches. The ringing community was represented by the Master of the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bellringers, officers of the Sonning Deanery Branch, Whites Bellhangers and local ringers. We were particularly pleased to welcome back former members of the parish, including both ringers and clergy, some of whom had travelled a considerable distance.
We are fortunate to have an organist (and former music director) among the ringers, so Liz Barter played the organ. Ringers’ services are noted for rousing hymns, and this was no exception. One was perhaps less familiar to non ringers – "Unchanging God who liveth enthroned in realms on high...". It is commonly called the ringers’ hymn, because its words describe the way that bells mark key life events, and the tune ‘Belfry Praise’ has the ringing sequences ‘Rounds’ and ‘Queens’ interleaved throughout the different parts of the harmony.
For the act of dedication the Bishop was handed a bellrope. Normally it is only one, though Bishop Richard dedicated each of the eight bells in turn at Downs Barn in Milton Keynes some years ago. The Bishop then handed the rope to the Rector, who having declared that the bells will be used for God’s proper purposes handed the rope to the Tower Foreman. At this point eight ringers stepped forwards, and the robed clergy stepped safely backwards, for a minute’s ringing. This moment is rather special, since it is probably the only time during the life of a church when there is bellringing in the middle of a service, rather than just before or after it.
Later in the service was another special moment – the ringers’ prayer. We use it in the tower, and it is often used in dedication services, but then normally said by the whole congregation. When planning the service, I felt it more appropriate to be said by ringers only, so at the appropriate point, the Rector asked all ringers present (many of whom were visitors) to stand and say the prayer.
After the service, visiting ringers headed for the tower to sample the greatly improved bells, while everyone else headed for the Cornerstone where the Social Committee had done us proud with refreshments, and socialising continued until late in the afternoon.
With an important landmark passed, we now move on to rebuild our numbers in the tower, and to prepare for the second phase of the project, which will improve the unpleasant over-heating we regularly suffer in the ringing room. We originally hoped this work would be done shortly after the bells, but it is now tied in with investigating possible effects of the heating on the nave roof, so the time-scale has been extended.
John Harrison ( January 2005 )
The ringers’ prayer: Gracious Lord, source of all skill and beauty, who hast entrusted to us the ringing of thy bells, give unto us the needful skill and grace for the faithful performing of our art, that the sound of the bells may awaken in the hearts of all who hear them the desire to worship thee in spirit and in truth: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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