Children hired to solve crisis in belfry

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The Independent Online
EIGHT-YEAR-OLDS are being trained to ring church bells on New Year's Eve while their parents make plans to celebrate the new millennium in a more secular fashion.

A campaign to find enough bell ringers for every church in the country was launched last year, but there is still a shortage on Jersey.

The tiny island has just two churches with bells but there are not enough adult bell ringers for the big night. So Simon Linford, the captain of the Tower of St John's Church, has turned to Sunday school children for help.

He said that they were extremely keen to take over bell ringing duties and there was a waiting list of applicants.

Unfortunately, they are restricted more by height than ability, he added.

"Finding people who will be prepared to do it on the eve of the millennium will be hard for us, so we have been teaching the children from the Sunday school," he said. "The bells at St John's are quite light so it's not too much of a problem for the children, although they do have to stand on a couple of boxes and we will have to buy some more before the night.

"They view it as a rather glamorous occupation."

Usually the minimum age for learning to ring church bells is 12, as most small children do not have the strength in their arms to pull down on the heavy ropes. But as this is a special case it was decided that an exception could be made. "I have been worried about it for some time and this seemed like a good solution," Mr Linford said.

"Many of our regular bell ringers are young people who return to the mainland to see their families at that time of year and that has left us short in previous years so this time we are going to do something about it."

David Thorne, the former editor of The Ringing World, a magazine for bell ringers, said it was not an unusual occupation for children, but eight was very young.

"Children often start learning at 12 but the Jersey bells are not too heavy so it is fine for them to begin at a younger age," Mr Thorne said.

"We have had some seven-year-olds ringing very well but it doesn't happen all that often because of their size."

He said there would be some parishes where bell ringers did not want to be on duty on the millennium New Year's Eve, but the campaign to recruit extra ringers was proving successful.

"We have found an extra 1,000 ringers during the pastyear and are confident of finding another one or two thousand more by the millennium," Mr Thorne said.

"There will be a lot of bells rung at midnight but the main aim is to ring them all at midday on 1 January and I think we shall definitely manage most of them."