English couple gets ringing endorsements

Pealing church bells have become a familiar sound in Summerville over the past three weeks as bell ringers of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd have worked to improve their technique.

Sheila Cheesman (from left), Mary Gaffney and Tom Smyth ring the bells at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd on Walton Way.  Charmain Z. Brackett/Correspondent
Charmain Z. Brackett/Correspondent
Sheila Cheesman (from left), Mary Gaffney and Tom Smyth ring the bells at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd on Walton Way.

Jeremy and Sheila Cheesman from England leave today to return home after spending time at Good Shepherd teaching the art of change ringing.

"We are very much self-taught," said Tom Smyth, the church's ring master. "We are fortunate enough to have the Cheesmans."

The couple also taught techniques to Episcopal Day School sixth-graders and were judges for a change ringing competition at the church Friday through Monday.

The Cheesmans have a long history of bell ringing in their families. Mr. Cheesman's parents were bell ringers, and the couple met in college through a change ringing group. They are change ringers at All Saints Benhilton Sutton Surrey in England, Mrs. Cheesman said.

Different churches have different types of bells. Some bells play hymns; those are called carillons or chimes, according to the North American Guild of Change Ringers' Web site, www.nagcr.org.

The bells at Good Shepherd are different. In its bell tower, which was built in 2004, are eight bells ranging in weight from about 300 pounds to 1,200 pounds. These bells are played by a team of people standing in a circle in the bell tower; each person rings one bell. Each of the eight bells represents one note in an octave scale.

The first rule of bell ringing, according to Mr. Cheesman, is to not look up.

There is nothing to see but the ceiling, because the bells are in a separate room.

Ropes are attached to the bells, and there is a certain rhythm developed when ringing them. The bells are rung from the highest to the lowest note, Mr. Cheesman said.

This is the second visit the Cheesmans have made to Church of the Good Shepherd. They were on vacation in the Southeastern United States three years ago when the church's bells were dedicated. There are few churches with these types of bells, according to Mr. Cheesman.

"The nearest bells of the same manufacture are in Atlanta and Charleston," he said.

Good Shepherd members said they welcomed the return visit.

"This has been wonderful," said Mr. Smyth. "It's like having a personal tutor. They're the best."

Reach Charmain Z. Brackett at czbrackett@hotmail.com.


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