Most new church buildings don’t include a bell tower anymore. When clergy are trying to promote a building campaign, they will often say things like “Now of course, the funds we are going to raise won’t be wasted on a bell tower.” Bell towers are from a different world. They are from a world where the church building existed in close proximity to the church’s membership and the bell could actually be heard.
A bell tower may be a relic of the past, but the role it played in a congregation’s life needs to be recovered. What was the purpose of a bell tower? Human beings were created to live in communion with God. We were created to be aware that God is with us every moment of the day. The great enemy of communion is distraction. We get so caught up in the “busyness” of a day that we forget the one to whom we are connected. The ringing of the bell reminded the faith community to turn their attention to God by announcing the approach of Morning or Evening Prayer, or a daily Eucharist. Even now in an English village, bells ring 10—15 minutes before the beginning of a service. Monasteries still have bells that ring to gather the community for prayer. The existence of a bell tower acknowledges that disciples need to be reminded on a regular basis to turn their attention to God.
What is the modern day bell tower? Maybe one contemporary version of a bell tower is the iPhone. Like a bell tower the alarms in our mobile devices can be set to remind us to spend a few minutes in silence throughout the course of a day. I currently have my phone set for 7am and 7pm as part of our 7 at 7 week of prayer. A group of St. Timothy’s parishioners and I are trying to remember to take 7 minutes of silence twice a day. I also have my phone set for 9, 12 and 4:45 in order to remember to join other staff and parishioners for daily devotions in our worship space. What I have discovered is how much I need a “bell tower” to remind me to be attentive. This is helpful even if I can’t stop everything and pray or go to a service. Yesterday, my phone went off in a meeting. Although I couldn’t leave the meeting, the “bell” that God was with us in the meeting.
We were created to keep our gaze on God. What is your bell tower that can help you pay attention to God?