This morning, 27th July, at 08:12, bells rang out across the British Isles, marking the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Church bells, hand-bells, door-bells and cell-phone chimes sounded out across the nation. At the Highfield Oval, in Harpenden, a group of 100 young people gathered outside in the cool morning air, to ring their bells and pray.
Together they declared a prayer distributed by the World Prayer Centre: “We declare that You, O God, are the exalted head over all the British Isles and every nation of the world, that Yours is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty. We pray that the people of the British Isles will come to know Jesus as their personal Saviour.”
Turner-prize winner, Martin Creed, first called for the nation-wide ringing of the bells, at 08:12 today, as an art piece titled, ‘Work No.1197: All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes’. His artistic vision captured public imagination. Big Ben rang for three minutes, the first time it has been rung outside its normal routine since King George VI’s funeral, 60 years ago. In Berwick-upon-Tweed, a 2000 year-old, 12 foot-high Celtic war-horn was blown, and across the nation bells of every variety were sounded.
Creed’s call also resonated within the Christian community. Bells were first popularised in the United Kingdom by roving Irish Celtic missionaries, who rang hand-bells to call people together, and church bells became common during the Middle Ages to call people to worship. For centuries, bells have remained symbols of invitation, declaration and celebration.
Bells also mark turning points. Seventy years ago, Winston Churchill called for nation-wide ringing of church bells in celebration of victory at El Alamein, which marked the turning point of the Second World War. For two years bells that had been silenced, to be rung only in an emergency, were once again sounded across the land. Churchill later wrote: “Before Alamein we never had a victory, after Alamein we never had a defeat”.
The London Olympic Games begin today. Bells have been rung in celebration and declaration. People across the land are also praying that this would mark a deeper spiritual turning point. Britain is a country in economic crisis; an ever-increasing number of its church buildings lie empty, their bells silent. But crisis brings potential opportunity. Seventy years ago the ringing of bells declared a turning point for the nation. Today, people rang their bells in celebration, declaring together that there is a sovereign “exalted head over all the British Isles and every nation of the world,” and praying in unity for deep spiritual change in this land.
Immediately after ringing the bells this morning, teams of young people went out to be part of taking a message of hope to communities in London. May we see these teams be part of the turning point we are hoping for.