I write this with a heavy heart, and it is not made any easier knowing that most of you will be expecting it. The impact on ringing of the decisions of the government in England to introduce Tier 4 and to change Christmas bubble arrangements in other Tiers is as nothing compared with other impacts on people’s lives. Just when we thought we had turned the corner our lives need to be more disrupted.
The new rules for Tier 4 state that no non-essential mixing outside of households (other than in a support bubble) is allowed, with only necessary travel outside the house. Whilst public worship is still permitted, there is no mingling with anyone outside your household or support bubble, so ringing will not be allowed in Tier 4. As with the current Tier 3 guidance, tower bells could still be rung by members of the same household, single bells, or by the use of Ellacombe chimes. The Church’s and our view is that this is part of an act of worship.
We are not changing our guidance in other Tiers at this stage, although the increasing speed of transmission of this mutated virus may cause a review sooner rather than later. The Christmas easing and adoption of Tier 1 ringing guidance in Tiers 2 and 3 should be limited as far as possible – think very carefully about whether it is strictly necessary and consider which church services are most important. The guidance is not a boundary at which to push, and you or your band can decide not to ring for whatever reason. By following the basic principles of reducing travel out of the home and contact with other people as much as possible, we can protect ourselves and our communities. Face masks and social distancing only reduce the risk – they don’t remove it.
I read a lot of ringing social media comment at the weekend, and what was clear was that most ringers are perfectly capable of working out for themselves how national guidance translates to ringing. The most powerful contribution to the debate that I read came from a ringer who works in a hospital in the south west of England, and I hope he will forgive me for quoting him in full:
“Winter pressures within the NHS are tough at the best of times. The system is already creaking under the pressure, and the graphs strongly suggest hospitalisation and deaths are going to increase dramatically. I would STRONGLY URGE anybody thinking of stretching/breaking the rules/advice to get their fix of ringing to reconsider – now is not the time and all you are ultimately doing is risking lives and putting my colleagues and other NHS staff under extreme pressure and risk.”
The one saving grace is that it appears that the end is in sight. Whilst we have some difficult months ahead of us, the promise of a vaccine is now real, and it is highly probable that the course of spread of this pandemic will be fundamentally changed in the first half of 2021. In terms of opening up more ringing, having published guidance on children’s groups, our next effort is going to be looking at more open ringing settings including chancel crossings and ground floor rings, where our setting for ringing is similar to the more open settings enjoyed by singers. Equally though, the virus mutation may make things worse yet in some areas.
The President of the Central Council would usually finish a message written on 21 December by wishing everyone a Happy Christmas, but that somehow doesn’t seem quite right. So instead I will say that I hope that whatever you do, and whoever you manage to be with, you can stay safe and remain positive.