Development of Handbell Ringing in Church

In just the last few decades the role of handbells has been enormously extended in the life of many churches of many denominations and in many countries. Handbell groups have proliferated and the association of handbells with churches has undergone a major alteration. In the same way, the music of churches and the way church services are organised are both undergoing many changes.

Those who make music through the medium of handbells may well find that the modern handbell bears little resemblance apart from shape to the bells of the early churches. Over the years the handbell has evolved into a complex and precision musical instrument with a range of tone that would surprise many people. Today, handbell castings are every bit as likely to have been mass produced in factory fashion. We would expect to see modern materials such as nylon and polypropylene in the fittings: and the fine tuning we would expect to hear in our handbells is now aided with electronic devices. On a purely financial aspect handbells represent a a very cost effective investment in music ministries - the handbells are individually of a cost to be easily affordable as memoriam gifts (and can have details of the donor's choice on each bell), they are not taken home by ringers and can be used by many groups year after year.

Today, when the move in churches is to involve people more, handbell ringing is a wholly appropriate instrument to use in church to promote the ideal of corporate praise as the method of using handbells in performance where every ringer must learn to work as one body instills a spirit of fellowship and discipline. So much so that a handbell team has been likened to a mirror of the church itself, a miniature Church.

“Handbell performances provide their listeners with not only wonderful music, but also the dazzling experience of witnessing the perfect cooperation among team members. Although there is a group of ringers performing, they act as if they were one instrument​. Learning to play handbells is more than acquiring and perfecting individual skills. Ringers have to develop good team spirits. Handbell ringers need to be aware of the roles of their assigned bells in the piece of music performed. An outstanding performance is the result of the perfect coordination of team members’ use of their eyes, brains, hands and ears. As in learning to play other musical instrument​s, learning to play handbells can cultivate personal accomplishment. At the same time, ringers can develop their patience and willingness to listen to others through cooperative team building.”

Emily Li, Chairperson of the Handbell Association of Hong Kong.

In harp and tabor and in symphon glee 
Worship God in Trumps and Psaltery
In strings, in organs, and bells ringing,
In all these worship the Heaven's King.

Handbell ringing has the advantage over a choir in that voice quality is not important in a handbell team.  Also a handbell ringer requires little musical knowledge to be ringing almost instantly perhaps by being assigned only one or two of the easier handbells in a particular piece and therefore needing to only be able to read these notes in their music. At the same time ringers can progress as much as they want in musical skills and in the techniques of ringing which are available to stretch and challenge those who want more.

Handbells in Church Today