The bells at York Minster are to fall silent for the festive period after the cathedral’s management sacked all of its voluntary bellringers without warning. The famous bells will not be heard again until the new year, meaning a break with the tradition of ringing them on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve as well as on Remembrance Sunday.
At a special meeting on Tuesday night, all 30 volunteers were told that bellringing activity at the minster would cease with “immediate effect” while the management recruited a paid head bellringer, who would select new volunteers in 2017.
In a letter to the volunteers, headed: “York Minster invites everyone to discover God’s love”, the Rev Canon Peter Moger said the church aimed to have a “fully trained, motivated and engaged community of staff and volunteers” by 2020. “Following similar changes within our flower-arranging, broderie, collections and police teams, [we] will recruit a head bellringer, who will then oversee the recruitment and activity of a new team of volunteer bellringers,” he said.
“In order to begin this process, all current bellringing activity will cease at the minster from today, Tuesday 11 October.” The minster has withdrawn the volunteers’ key fobs which give access to the bell tower for “safety reasons as the minster has to know who can access the building at any time”.
The announcement caused outrage among the city’s bellringers, and a petition to allow them to ring the bells on Remembrance Sunday and Christmas and New Year’s Eve had 600 signatures by Thursday morning.
lice Etherington, 29, the bellringer who started the petition, said the church’s “disdainful treatment [of us] appears thoroughly unchristian”. In the petition, she wrote: “The minster has suspended all bellringing with absolutely no prior warning. The bellringers are very loyal volunteers who give up hours of their time every week to keep this tradition going, and have represented the minster in local and national competitions.
“Remembrance Sunday is the key day in the year that we remember those who died defending our freedoms during wartime. Since the end of WWI bells have been rung every single year, except during WWII, to commemorate those who have fallen. It is a key part of our nation’s salute to their sacrifice.”
She said Christmas and New Year’s Eve were also “such special times of year where we enjoy spending time with family and friends” and that residents and tourists in York “adore the iconic sound of our bells”.
Etherington, who has been ringing bells at the minster for nearly 10 years, said the suspension of the group was a “vindictive measure” on the part of the church in response to a series of complaints made by the bellringers. She said they had complained about both the removal of the right of bellringers to marry in the minster and the decision to stop them having a new year’s celebration in the minster before they rang the bells.
The Suffolk Guild of Ringers said the global campanology community was “shocked and appalled at the truly disgraceful actions” taken by York minster. Tweeting its support for York’s bellringers, it said “the bellringing community is in shock and needs a proper explanation”.
Seeking to further explain its decision, a spokesperson for the minster said in a statement: “It is critically important to ensure that there is a consistent approach to health and safety, governance and risk management across all of our volunteer teams. In order to make these changes, we sometimes need to close existing volunteering roles so that we can move forward with the new processes. This is what has happened with our bellringers.
“It also means that the main bells will be silent until we have recruited a new team in the new year. We recognise that this will be disappointing for the current team. However, they will be free to apply for the new roles as they become available.”