Sunday, 14 March 2010
For whom no bells toll.
Father Ignatius tries not to get involved with politics or speak directly about politics. But what do you do as a priest when politics gets involved with you?
There he was one morning enjoying his usual breakfast of hot coffee and ginger marmalade on toast when Mrs Davenport, the housekeeper, came in and put the morning mail on the table beside him. She then sat down at the table and poured herself some tea.
“Hmmm…” said Father Ignatius as he finished his breakfast, “that top envelope looks a bit officious to me. It bears the mark of the Local Authority. I wonder what they want.”
Moments later he sat at his office and opened the brown envelope first. It was a letter from someone who called himself “Senior Noise Pollution Engineer”.
“I wonder what a Junior Noise Pollution Engineer does;” thought the priest, “concern himself with whispers and murmurs perhaps.”
The main point of the letter was that the Local Authority had decided to stop St Vincent Church from ringing its bells on Sundays, weddings and funerals. In fact, to stop ringing the bells altogether.
Apparently this particular engineer had “carried out audiometric tests in the park opposite the church and it transpired that an excessive number of decibels had been recorded on several occasions when the church bells were ringing. The decision had therefore been taken to discontinue bell ringing altogether.”
The priest continued reading:
“Whilst the establishment in question has the right to appeal against this decision it is pointed out that this would be in vain unless there was evidence of extenuating circumstances as to why the practice of bell ringing should continue.”
“Where do they learn to write like that?” thought the priest as he prayed silently for God’s help and advice.
Having decided to appeal against the decision, Father Ignatius prayed daily whilst awaiting the day of the hearing, which was to take place at the Town Hall. In the meantime, he decided not to tell Father Donald or Mrs Davenport about the letter. Not for now at least.
On the day in question he arrived at the Town Hall and was led to a Conference Room on the second floor. There sitting opposite him, facing him across the table, were five stern faced people who would hear his appeal.
After a few polite introductions he was asked by the author of the letter what was the basis of his appeal.
“Well …” said Father Ignatius hesitantly, “I am not sure what you consider as extenuating circumstances, as you say in your letter, Mr Wall.
“St Vincent Church was built almost sixty years ago and it has rang its bells ever since. The bells themselves are about three hundred years old and were salvaged from a monastery which stood on that very site centuries ago. It is traditional to ring the bells on Sundays, weddings and funerals; also at Christmas and Easter.”
“Tradition is no reason for the status quo,” interrupted Mr Wall harshly, “where would we be if we relied on tradition? They’d be no progress at all; and we’d still have the horse and cart.”
The other bureaucratic robots at the table laughed quietly.
“What … what I meant to say,” continued the priest politely, “is that people expect to hear the church bells. Has anyone complained, may I ask?”
“No one has complained …” replied Mr Wall whilst the other men continued writing, “but then if we were to wait for complaints nothing would ever get done. We must be proactive in order to protect the public.”
This seemed to amuse the other four bureaucrats who no doubt worked for Mr Wall.
Father Ignatius was struggling.
“What I’d like to suggest …” he continued, “what if we were to ask the people living near the church whether they think the church bells are too noisy?”
“We can’t expect the public to know what’s good for them …” said Mr Wall authoritatively, “if we had to listen to the public then there would be no need for the Noise Pollution Department of this Local Authority. We are here to decide on behalf of the public; not to listen to them.”
The priest felt as if he was losing the argument. “This man is living up to his name,” he thought, “it’s like talking to a brick wall. He is determined to silence the bells at all cost. Dear God, help me!”
Father Ignatius took off his glasses and started cleaning them. He felt droplets of sweat building up on his forehead. He asked God silently for inspiration.
“It’s very hot in here …” he said putting his glasses back on, “can we open a window perhaps?”
Mr Wall nodded and the man sitting at the end of the table got up and opened the window.
It seems that God was listening to His priest on that day. As soon as the window was opened the noise from the traffic outside drowned their speech in the room.
“Is it always this noisy?” asked Father Ignatius.
“Yes it is …” mumbled Mr Wall, “we can’t do a thing about it … that’s why we keep the windows shut.”
Before the priest could say another word a train passed by the railway station next door.
Clackety clack … clackety clack … clackety clack went the train noisily for a full minute or so as its wheels rattled slowly on the metal rails. And for good measure, it blew its whistle as it left the station; as if to register its own personal disapproval of the bureaucrats sitting there.
As the noise abated a little, it was obvious that God had not finished yet.
Because at that precise moment the clock at the top of the Town Hall started to strike 12o’clock.
At this point the man by the window shut it quickly, but they had to wait until the last chime of the clock before speaking again.
“That’s a beautiful sound …” said Father Ignatius, “I can hear it from my church and I often set my watch to it …”
“Yes we’re proud of it …” replied Mr Wall, “it’s a traditional chime and …”
Father Ignatius smiled as Mr Wall realized what he had just said.
“Well… I think we can conclude this hearing …” said Mr Wall firmly, “we’ve considered your case fully and it has been decided to withdraw the Local Authority’s Notice requiring St Vincent Church to desist from ringing its bells. Your appeal has been successful Father.”
The priest left the Town Hall praising God and floating on air … and he hasn’t heard from Mr Wall or his Noise Pollution Department ever since.
… And the bells are still ringing …