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Ask not for whom the bell tolls

Ask not for whom the bell tolls

York Minster and the Archbishop of York are responding to a public uproar over the removal of a team of volunteer bell-ringers from the iconic cathedral.

On Monday, Archbishop John Sentamu released a statement explaining the reason for last week’s dismissal of thirty volunteer bell-ringers at York Minster.

York Minster’s governing body, the Chapter of York, is responsible for ensuring that the Minster is a safe place for everyone who steps inside. This means managing and minimising risk to people and the building and includes safeguarding, health and safety and security.

Earlier this summer, it was necessary for the Chapter to take action regarding a member of the bell ringing community on safeguarding grounds. This came after complex multi-agency activity involving City of York Council, York Diocese Safeguarding Adviser and the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Officer.

The decision was taken in line with advice from safeguarding professionals, and with regard to national policies and guidance, including the Church of England’s on minimising risk to children, young people and vulnerable adults.

Some members of the York Minster Society of Change Ringers have consistently challenged the Chapter’s authority on this and other important matters.

Repeated disregard of the Chapter’s attempts to fully implement the Church’s national policies for safeguarding, health and safety and security meant that decisive action was required.

This is why the Chapter took the decision to disband the bell ringing team last week.  New arrangements for bell ringing at the Minster will start in the New Year.

According to the Guardian, the bell-ringers were told at a meeting last Tuesday that their activities would cease with immediate effect, for “health and safety reasons.” They were further informed that a paid supervisor of the bell ringing program will be appointed in the coming new year, and that they will be eligible to reapply for their volunteer positions as the program is rebuilt.

The York bellringers are a close-knit team, including several members of one family. Last week, the bellringers and their supporters reacted with anger to the dismissals, accusing the minster of behaving in an “unchristian” manner.

Allegations against the bell-ringer removed over the summer date back up to fifteen years, according to the Guardian, with renewed concerns having been brought to the attention of church authorities more recently.

Sentamu stated at a press conference that the ongoing investigation into allegations of abuse against vulnerable adults forced the immediate closure of the bell-ringing program. He voiced absolute support for the Dean of the Minster, the Very Reverend Vivienne Faull, and stressed the need to take safeguarding issues seriously and act in a timely manner to prevent further problems, going so far as to blame the media for making victims more vulnerable by fuelling the anger around the bell-ringers sacking.

The York Minster Society of Change Ringers responded to the statement, denying that they had challenged the Minster’s authority to implement safeguarding policies.

The York Minster Society of Change Ringers (YMSCR) would like to clarify that, whilst we have challenged the Chapter on the fairness of some decisions, we strongly refute any suggestion that we disregarded the implementation of any of their policies. All of Chapter’s policies have been implemented in full, at all times. YMSCR take health and safety, security and safeguarding with the utmost seriousness. The Dean and Chapter have not been able to point to any evidence that suggests the contrary.

Individuals within YMSCR have privately expressed concerns to the Dean and Chapter over whether due process was followed during their action regarding a member of the bell ringing community. As a direct result of doing so, the entire team had their volunteer agreements terminated. This demonstrates that York Minster do not tolerate any questioning of their decisions, or of the processes by which these were made, even when that questioning is conducted politely and in private.

In an update, the Society added,

Please note that, contrary to some reports, to our knowledge, there is no ongoing investigation into any member of YMSCR, past or present.

The Archbishop made repeated reference to an ongoing investigation during his press conference.

Read more in the Guardian here. Read York Minster’s statement here; the York Minster Society of Change Ringers response here. Watch the press conference with Archbishop John Sentamu and Dean Vivienne Faull here.

Featured image: Archbishop Sentamu and Dean Faull address the press.


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David Curtis

Why were comments removed from this article? While the comments were heated, scrubbing the comments section seems odd. May I suggest that when this happens again, the comments section should be closed with a restatement of the comment section.

Thank you all for your continued work at the Cafe.

Jeremy Bates

Thank you for asking this.

I was left with the impression that my comments were removed because someone didn’t like their factual content.

I kept a copy of the lengthier comment, though, and am willing to repost it, if it won’t be taken down again.

Paul Woodrum

So, because one bell ringer was alleged to have committed some sexual impropriety — somehow it always comes down to sex — bell ringing at York was declared to be unsafe and all the skilled volunteers were dismissed. Meanwhile there is an alleged continuing investigation, whether of sex or safety is not clear, and, for a few months, heaven can enjoy some peace and quiet. All rather standard ecclesiastical muddling if not quite convincing. Makes one yearn for the simpler days at Barchester.

Jeremy Bates

“Meanwhile there is an alleged continuing investigation, whether of sex or safety is not clear.”

The only one saying that there is any ongoing investigation is the Archbishop of York. Presumably it’s not a police investigation, or the Archbishop just blew it wide open.

In another revealing fact, today the ringers were allowed to return to the bell tower to collect their belongings.

Paul Woodrum

I remember the bells of York Minister as one Sunday morning I walked from an ancient inn to the Minster for mass. Splendid. And you say all 31 are being dismissed for disloyalty? Over what? To whom?

David Allen

As I read the story, the only one dismissed for public criticism against the Minster’s decisions/disloyalty, and so, the one to whom I referred, was the carillonneur.

David Allen

The ABY isn’t one of my favorite folks in the Communion, but I don’t consider him to be dishonest and so I think that I have to trust him and the dean when they explain their reasons and their experience with the Society.

My experience with engrained volunteer groups is that they often don’t view things in the real world, as they live in a world they have created over the long years of their existence. The Society hasn’t been thrown out, it has been thanked for the long service, released and individuals welcomed to apply for further service under the reorganization. As to public critism by volunteers, few organizations put up with blatant disloyalty. Organizations don’t usually offer freedom of speech and they usually aren’t democracies. Sometimes folks have had to learn that the hard way, even here at the Café!

Paul Woodrum

Response to what? Sex? Bullying? Swearing? Drugs? Alcohol? Heresy? Witchcraft? Zombie apocalypse?Without knowing what “health, safety, or security reasons” mean,it’s a bit hard to form an opinion though the avoidance of specifics smells vaguely like some Episcopal USA Title IV miscarriages.

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