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2012 Games: J John on the national bell ringing moment

There's a right old ding dong planned for this Olympic Friday, and J John finds it kind of appealing ...

I love church bells and there is a plan for bells across the United Kingdom to ring at 8:12am on Friday (27 July) to mark the beginning of the Olympic Games.

It’s not exactly a traditional bell-ringing initiative – the organisers want all kinds of bells to ring out for three minutes "as quickly and loudly as possible". They are inviting the participation of church bells, bicycle bells, hand-bells, ship’s bells and even mobile phones.

It’s going to be interesting to hear how well it works, and if the idea is to use bells to both celebrate the start of the Olympics and to sound a welcome to the many foreign visitors coming to the UK, then it gets my support. The idea has certainly made me think about bells – especially church bells – and I think they stand for three things.
Rejoicing: there is a wonderful, joyful, jubilant sound to them and there is a lot to be said for bells sounding a note of celebration and jubilation at the start of one of the biggest international events ever held in this country. Church bells offer a deeper and more important rejoicing. At the heart of Christianity is celebration: the outrageous joy that comes from knowing Christ is risen, sins are cancelled and death is conquered. Such ‘good news’ demands the best expressions of joy that we can manage. So by all means ring out the bells for the Olympics.
Reminding: presumably part of the symbolism of ringing the bells at the start of the Olympics is to remind us that the event is beginning; the bells say, ‘we have waited a long time but now the day has finally arrived!’ Here, too, church bells offer something deeper: a spiritual reminding.

In the past, church bells were used to call people to church services but they also served to remind people of the passing of time. We are all allocated only a limited amount of time and therefore need to be wise stewards. It’s no bad thing to be reminded that we do not have an infinite measure of life and we should make the best of every hour and day. Church bells also remind us, in the course of an increasingly busy and noisy life, of the truth that God has a call on us and we are responsible to him.
Inviting: most bells, whether dinner bells or church bells, serve to summon or welcome. So it is completely appropriate that bells are to be sounded at the start of an Olympics, when people are coming in from around the world. The deeper Christian message here is that, although wordless, church bells joyfully announce the good news of Christ and invite us to accept his offer of forgiveness.
Rejoicing, reminding, inviting: I hope bells do make a joyful noise at the start of the Olympics – and that we will hear what bells have to say to us, not just at the start of the Games but whenever we hear them.
Revd Canon J.John
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Editor's note: You can find out more about the initiative at – from where the video above (fronted by Lulu) is taken

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