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Handbells and Modern Worship: What to do when the Worship Bus Leaves You at the Station
Lexington Baptist Church in Lexington, SC has a wonderful handbell choir called The Joyful Noise
Handbells that has been in existence for over 40 years. I have directed this group for the past 27 years
and two of our members are in their 34th year, and 6 others have 18 to 30 years membership! Several
years ago our church's worship style combined our then separate contemporary and more traditional
worship styles into a unified blend that is far more participatory and therefore less conducive for bells
or other instrumental "performing" ensembles. Whereas our bells use to play about once a month in
worship, usually for an offertory or perhaps a Call to Worship, we found ourselves limited to only
being able to play once or twice in December and maybe a prelude here and there, and an occasional
offertory. What have we done? We had to allow God to open new doors for us to walk through!
These are the adjustments we have made in our bell paradigm:
1) Playing in a worship services:
- Play only familiar hymns or praise songs
- Allow the congregation to sing with us if possible
- Utilize a soloist or a solo instrument
- Play with a track or live accompaniment (We put the bells and church orchestra together - plenty
of resources for this available)
- Try to use pieces with special effects (martellato, singing bell, toll swing, shaking - nothing
wrong with making it more interesting! )
- Use bells among the choir, added to a joyful praise song (Resurrection Sunday!)
- Emphasize the visual (facial expressions, better arm movement, PPT, etc.)
2) Take the Bells on the Road:
- We strive for an annual "tour", even if only 3 days
- Play for local Assisted Living Centers and Nursing Homes
- Present a Sunday night "concert" at other churches, and make them worship experiences using
all the same principles in #1 above.
- Take the bells to prison! We recently took our 5-Octave set into Kirkland prison in Columbia
and the men LOVED it! Many had never seen or heard handbells before and they were
captivated. A worship moment I will never forget is when we were closing our program with
“His Eye is On the Sparrow” and the many of the men just starting softly singing it with us and
I felt the presence of the Lord in that place!
Take heart! Do not get discouraged. You have a gift to give, a message to tell, a love to share.
Handbells are a great tool in the Father's hands. Always remember that a bell choir is a picture of how
the Church should be, different individuals working together as one!
Worship Pastor, Lexington Baptist