As a handbell director and a music educator, I enjoy developing new ways to incorporate handbells into the worship life of the congregation. In 2019 we renovated our fellowship hall and installed a wooden floor labyrinth. To dedicate the new space I wrote a call-and-response liturgy that incorporates three handbell techniques: chord ringing, random ringing, and singing bell.
The dedication starts with a Trinitarian acclamation of the spiritual journey and a moment of meditation. Then a covenant prayer is made for the new space through a litany of different attributes of God. A song is sung after the prayer. The liturgy may be used with or without handbells, but it is designed to be a creative way to use handbells outside of a worship service.
The liturgy contains options for incorporating up to ten handbell ringers playing one bell each. Our church has access to five octaves of handbells, but three- and four-octave sets suffice. First, the opening statements are punctuated by striking the Fadd2 chord shown above. Each strike is cued by a member of the group standing on a ladder in the front of the room.
Next, the ringers perform the singing bell to provide the setting for a moment of meditation. The “singing bell” technique for handbells was inspired by singing bowls originating in China and Japan. During meditation rituals, a stick is moved around the rim of a metal bowl to sustain the bowl’s pitch. Since its introduction around 2006, the singing bell technique has been used in dozens of pieces published for handbells, mostly to support pentatonic hymn tunes. I highly recommend “How Can I Keep From Singing” (arr. Arnold Sherman, Red River Music, HB0060) and “Amazing Grace” (arr. Sandra Eithun, Red River Music, BL5056).
Performing the singing bell technique on handbells requires a wooden dowel for each player. A set of eight is enough for most published music that includes a singing bell. Typically, dowels with a 1.5-inch diameter are used for larger bells (C3–C5), and dowels with a 1-inch diameter are used for smaller bells (G4–C6). Smaller handbells are difficult to sing. Both 1-inch and 1.5-inch dowels are available at hardware stores. To more easily perform the technique and to generate a fuller sound, the dowels may be dipped in rubber. Rubber-coated singing bell dowels are available from Jeffers Handbell Supply (handbellworld.com).
Finally, the ringers randomly play the notes in the Fadd2 chord to accompany a closing song. We chose “Come and Find the Quiet Center” Murray, WR 477 (Tune: BEACH SPRING). Any pentatonic hymn (set in F major) may be sung with random ringing on an Fadd2 chord. Some other songs that utilize the pentatonic scale (though not necessarily in F major) and would work with this liturgy include the first verses of “God, Who Stretched the Spangled Heavens” Cameron, GtG 24 (Tune: HOLY MANNA), “Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service” Bayly, LYUH 928, SSS 239 (Tune: PLEADING SAVIOR), “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian” African American Spiritual, GtG 729, SSS 621 and “How Firm a Foundation” LUYH 427, GtG 463, SSS 291 (Tune: FOUNDATION).
Directly after worship, congregants moved from the sanctuary to the fellowship hall, filing into the labyrinth path. The bell ringers surrounded the congregation around the labyrinth’s perimeter. A member of the handbell ensemble stood on a ladder at the front of the room to cue the bell ringers. The two pastors alternated as the leader in the liturgy.
Affirming the Spiritual Journey
Leader 1: As we gather in this labyrinth, please join with me as we affirm our journey of faith together.
Leader 2: In faith, Abraham journeyed to the place he was called, not knowing where he was going (Hebrews 11:8).
In faith, we follow God even if we do not know where we are going.
Leader 1: In faith, Moses and the Israelites journeyed through Red Sea waters to the promised land (Hebrews 11:29).
In faith, we follow Christ by resisting oppression and embracing new life.
Leader 2: In faith, Hannah and Mary rejoiced in the one who raises the poor from the dust (1 Samuel 2:1; Luke 1:46).
In faith, we are led by the Spirit to be transformed by the presence of God (Romans 12:2).
Leader 1: Shema, O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is one (Deuteronomy 6:4).
[Handbells start singing bell technique on chord.]
Leader 2: Please pray with me in a moment of silence.
[One minute of contemplative silence.]
Dedicating a Place of Gathering
[Handbell players release singing bell sticks when the leader starts to speak.]
Leader 1: The earliest followers of Jesus devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to breaking bread and to prayer. Awe came upon the followers because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together, and they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need (Acts 2:42–47). Accordingly, we dedicate this space to be a place of community, transformation and support. Please join me in a covenant prayer to God:
Holy God, may this be a place of faith.
Leader 2: Unless you, LORD, build the house, the builders labor in vain (Psalm 127:1). Help us to be like the wise builders, striving to live our lives on the foundation of Christ and remembering that your house is a house of prayer (Matthew 7:24–27; 1 Corinthians 3:11; Mark 11:17).
Just God, may this be a place of lament.
Leader 1: We confess that we have sinned and done wrong, turning aside from your commandments. We have not listened to your servants, the prophets, and our ancestors in faith. Hear our prayer, O LORD, and save us in our distress (Daniel 9:5–6; Psalm 69:29).
Forgiving God, may this be a place of mercy.
Leader 2: Create in us clean hearts, O God, and put a new and right spirit within us. In gratitude for your forgiveness, we share the light and life of Jesus with our neighbors around the world (Psalm 51:10; John 1:4).
Loving God, may this be a place of hope.
Leader 1: Being filled with the presence of your Holy Spirit, we live confidently in the promise and assurance of the good news of Jesus Christ. In your great mercy, we have been given a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus and into an inheritance that can never perish (1 Peter 1:4).
Leader 2: In faith we dedicate this space to the humble service of God and neighbor. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray (Mark 12:30–31).
We ended with the first verse of “Come and Find the Quiet Center” Murray, WR 477 (Tune: BEACH SPRING) in F major. The melody line and text were included in the liturgy handout. The F4 handbell ringer played the first note, and the handbells randomly rang a mezzo piano Fadd2 chord.