Handbells in Church Today

Handbells have a wide public appeal. The visual beauty of ringers performing, as well as the unique sound, has been found to capture the attention of the public whether the handbells are ringing a hymn accompaniment in the church, or performing background music for a street collection for charity, or in giving a concert entertainment. Little surprise then that handbells are seen as a good promotional and evangelical tool.

“Music nobles… M​usic softens one’s behaviour.​.. These Polish proverbs highlight the idea that music making contributes to the development of young people. It supports and enhances the positive development of youth’s personality. It makes them become more sensitive and sensible. But that’s not all. We’ve noticed the development of useful skills such as co-operation, working in teams and responsibility. These merits are essential in life.”

J. Wiera Jelinek, Director (1999-2010​) of Zelów Handbells of Evangelica​l Reformed Church in Zelów, Poland

The attraction of a handbell team can be used to bring the message of the church to those who might never otherwise enter the church building. In a concert (or indeed in a service) situation this could take the form of acting out a parable with the handbell team as the basis for this.

For instance the parable about Who is the Greatest (Luke chapter 9 verses 46-56) could have the ringers argue about who is the most important, with the team leader delivering the Message that each bell rung on its own is nothing compared to the beautiful music that results when all work together.

“In a handbell ensemble a split second's hesitation spoils the next note. The teamwork suggests sports more than music, with the difference that no one can work out without the group. Each player must respond courageously the instant the note comes, though it may be the only sound in a vast cathedral.  In bell choirs, ear for pitch is useless in comparison to rhythmic accuracy and team spirit. No solo is more than a couple of notes, never a phrase, and no note is more enchanting than others. There is no solo curtain call, or even, for that matter, a curtain.”

Leslie Kandell, The New York Times.

Likewise with Luke chapter 6 verses 46-49 about Building on Solid Rock could demonstrate the need for having the basics of music reading and ringing technique before performing in public.

As some churches move toward high-tech services with more modern music, some may consider handbells old fashioned, out of date, or just not interesting. But handbell ensembles have specific benefits that can’t be matched by other types of ensembles. Because of their unique, irreplaceable roles, they are as important in the church as they have ever been.

  • Handbell ensembles reflect 1 Corinthians 12:12: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (ESV). Each member of a handbell ensemble contributes specific notes to the musical line. Without even one of those notes, the entire line would be lost. A handbell ensemble is an ideal place to help members see the value of their contributions to the church as well as to reinforce this important Bible teaching.
  • Handbell ensembles offer one of the easiest ways for people to get involved in music ministry. Because handbells require minimal training to play, it is easy for new ringers to join even if they don’t have prior music experience. Members who are hesitant to get involved in music ministry for that reason can find that joining a handbell ensemble is an easy way to participate in music ministry.
  • Handbells have a unique sound that can’t be replaced by other instruments. On special days like Easter and Christmas, handbells may have a more appropriate sound than other types of music. What instrument could better represent the bright majesty of Jesus’ resurrection or the angels’ glory at Christmas?
  • A set of handbells can sometimes be less expensive than a piano or organ. If a church must decide between different instruments to purchase, handbells may be a more affordable option.
  • Kids think handbells are awesome! Because children find handbells fun and easy to learn, they may especially enjoy playing handbells and can easily join in music ministry. In a children’s choir, even just a couple handbells can greatly add to the sound without making much extra work for children and music directors.

No matter where music heads in the future, handbells can always offer unique benefits for both churches and individual ringers. We hope your church keeps the legacy of handbells alive by giving your members opportunities to glorify God through participating in handbell ensembles! 

Below: Dunblane Cathedral