Russell MillerThis article written by Russell Miller, Area 9 Secretary

For thirty plus years I was a church music director, directing handbell choirs as well as other musical ensembles. In that role, I saw the exceptional value of bell choirs as legitimate musical entities as parts of worship, and as places where skills were learned and honed for adults, youth, and children.

For the past couple of years, I have been serving in a pastoral role. Now I no longer direct a bell choir but am a volunteer member like everyone else. And, I’ve seen a side of bell choirs that I always did know existed but see in a new way. And that is the spiritual side of bell choirs and the sense of community they create.

This past year one of our members had a reoccurrence of breast cancer. She underwent surgery and radiation. While the larger church family rallied around her and her husband as they went through those difficult times, I perceived that it was the handbell choir that gave her the greatest support and encouragement. They were the ones organizing meals and transportation and checking in on her most regularly.

Another of our members is a college professor who had an “incident” happen in her classroom. While the incident was being investigated, the professor was put on leave, which was devastating to her sense of worth. Once again, I watched the members of the bell choir come to support their friend, pray for her, encourage her, value her, and keep her connected to the choir.

I realize that playing handbells is probably not strictly related to the care that I observed. Indeed I attributed some of it to Christian caregiving as learned and taught in the church (even though I readily admit this could happen just as easily in a community bell group that was not religiously based). But I’ve wondered what about being a bell choir contributed to this extraordinary community. Could it be that the dozen or so people in a bell group is just precisely the right size to provide intensely personal care and community? Not too big where one could get overlooked, and not too small to be overwhelming for those giving the care? Could it be that the unique process required of bell groups to work together to achieve their goal created a sense of interdependence not found in other ensembles? Perhaps it was the realization that if their friend faltered, we all faltered. I don’t know for sure, but there seems to be something inherent in playing in a bell choir that lends itself to an extraordinary community. What a bonus to the other – more musical values that a bell choir contains!

I suggest that as we work to be more musical and more skilled in our rehearsals, we also remember to cultivate the community around the table. Tables are, after all, where a community can be most often found: dinner tables, communion tables, even conference tables. Let’s add handbell tables to the list!