Church bells will sound once more after the Church of England ruled that socially distanced ringing will be allowed under new guidelines.
After places of worship were closed for public services under the coronavirus lockdown, the country’s 5,000 churches and chapels with working bells remained silent.
While social distancing measures mean a full peal is unlikely, officials ruled that it was finally time for them to ring again after three months. Church authorities had imposed a complete silence rule because ringers have to stand close together.
According to the Central Council of Bell Ringers (CCBR), ringing will be included in the resumption of church services to remind people which day is Sunday.
Following a meeting with the Church of England’s Recovery Group, officials confirmed that senior clergy are committed to making ringing part of the return of church activities. However, ringers have been told that initially they must not “practice or self-indulge”.
Vicki Chapman, of the CCBR, said: “The Church of England has stated that it would be really good to get ringing going again, letting the bells proclaim that the church is open and wanted.
“We are particularly cautious of any misinterpretation of the drop in the UK Government’s social distancing rule from two metre to one metre, which represents a tenfold increase in risk.
“Our return to ringing will be cautious, socially distanced ringing, for a very limited period of 15 minutes, and only for services. Ringing three or four bells for 15 minutes for a service is not what keeps most of us ringing, and the novelty is going to wear off quite soon.
“It could also be a long time before peals are possible, and we won’t be able to do any teaching – but it is essential for us to get ringing going again.”
The CCBR said risk assessments would be carried out before people enter bell towers, with the most likely result being that ringers are spaced out to ring every other bell.
“It won’t sound quite as pretty, but needs must,” Ms Chapman said. “We’ll also make sure there will be proper hand sanitation and suggest that ringing is limited to few people at once and only for 15 minutes prior to Sunday service.”
It will be a “personal choice” for ringers whether to wear masks, whereas it would be “pretty difficult” to ring bells with gloves on because the ropes are too slippery.
While dates are still to be finalised, some dioceses have already said they expect to have church services running after July 4.