The iconic bells of York Minster are set to lay silent as the laying off of the bells’ thirty volunteer bell-ringers is announced. Familiar to both residents and visitors of York, the bells are set the to remain silent until Easter 2017, following the announcement last week that all thirty of the volunteer bell-ringers were to be laid off and replaced by a new team.
The Dean of York Minster, Reverend Vivienne Faull, has attributed the mass laying-off to ‘health and safety and security reasons”. Posting a statement on its website, the Minster describes the decision being taken after a “complex multi-agency activity involving City of York Council, York Diocese Safeguarding Adviser and the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Officer”, following an incident earlier this summer where the “Chapter [was forced] to take action regarding a member of the bell ringing community on safeguarding grounds.”
However, volunteers from the bell-ringing team, the York Minster Society of Change Ringers, have refuted this claim, and instead have suggested that a strained relationship between figures at the Minster and the Society is the actual reason behind the laying off. In an open letter to the Reverend on the society’s website, ringing master Peter Sanderson describes inviting the reverend on “several occasions” to visit the tower and the team – yet he said Rev Faull had “declined all of those invitations and have never to my knowledge ascended the tower”.
Following on, Mr Sanderson describes “significant grievances between the ringers and Chapter” and said that, despite offering to meet to resolve the issues, the Reverend had rejected every one of the society’s invitations. On the society’s website, the team report that they have “privately expressed [their] concerns to the Dean and Chapter over whether the correct process was followed over the alleged incident involving the Bell Ringer”, and have criticised the lack of dialogue between the two organisations.
In light of the news that the bells are to be silent until Easter 2017, a petition has been established on 38degrees calling for a suspension of the silence for Remembrance Sunday, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve. At the time of writing, the petition has attracted over 15,000 signatures with many comments criticising the Minster over its “un-Christian” treatment of the bell-ringers.
Although the bells were heard on the 17th October, York Minster has attributed this to them being moved into their resting place in advance of the coming silence. It remains to be seen whether the decision will be overturned.