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Bellringers belong to two 'families': the family of the parish where they ring, and the family of the wider ringing community.
There are around 50,000 practising ringers worldwide. The Central Council of Church Bell Ringers represents some 70 ringing societies. The larger societies are subdivided into districts that provide the working units with which most ringers relate directly. The Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bellringers is the largest ringing society, with 2500 members. It is split into 15 branches, including Sonning Deanery, which represents 180 ringers in 17 towers, one of which is All Saints Wokingham.
As well as providing social links between ringers in different towers, ringing societies exist to provide mutual support. For example, Sonning Deanery Branch runs monthly practices (giving ringers opportunities they might not have in their own tower), training courses (to help them develop skills) and striking competitions (to stimulate improved standards of performance). Every year in Sonning Deanery, there is a 'quarter peal week' in November, to encourage quarter peals in as many towers as possible, and involving as many ringers as possible. Not all towers have the resources to do this unaided, so it encourages 'sharing' of ringers.
All Saints ringers were active during this year's quarter peal week. We rang our usual half muffled quarter peal for Remembrance Sunday here, and in the afternoon, three of us rang a quarter peal on handbells (which is a distinct additional skill, since each person rings two bells). On the preceding Wednesday, a band of All Saints ringers rang a quarter peal at St Nicholas Hurst – quite a demanding performance (six spliced Surprise Major for anyone in the know) and a 'first' for one of the band. One of our ringers was also in another quarter peal at Hurst on the afternoon of Remembrance Sunday – quite a busy day.
Our role within the family of the Parish needs less explaining. Everyone sees us ringing for services, especially at Christmas, which is a busy time. (This year, we will ring for six services in 25 hours over Christmas Eve and Christmas day.) We do other other things behind the scenes as well. You to guess that the ringers raise and lower the flag on the 16 prescribed days of the year when one has to be flown, and also attend to the clock, since both are connected with the tower. Many years ago, we also acquired responsibility for erecting, decorating and demolishing the Christmas tree. Of course, many of you will also know of the tower tours, and talks about ringing that we organise for local groups, and might have been involved in one. If you haven't, or are interested, then please let me know.
John Harrison ( November 2006 )
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