Our Lady of the Assumption Parish defends bell-ringing after parishioner complains to city
By Alistair Burns
The B.C. Catholic
Bells are now ringing at Port Coquitlam's Our Lady of the Assumption Church. A welcome change for some, the bells have also been irritating a few locals. But pastor Father Ronald Thompson says the bells are loved by many.
"They're the sound of beauty, not the other sound common to PoCo: the crashing of train carriages," he commented.
Father Thompson explained the church's bell tower has two functions: first, an hourly bell, rung from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., "which is only one bell, counting out the hours."
Then all of the bells are rung for a few minutes before weekday morning Masses (7 a.m. on Tuesdays, 8:15 a.m. the rest of the week), and on Sunday before Masses.
"Also, we employ them daily before the Angelus, at noon and at 6 p.m.," he pointed out. "This helps to remind Catholics either in the church itself or at home nearby to start their prayers."
According to neighbours, the sound levels of the bells are 80 decibels. A decibel (dB) is the unit used to measure the intensity of a sound.
Audiologists say in a work-place environment, background noise at an 85 dB level (e.g. heavy city traffic) for eight hours would cause hearing loss. However, the higher the dB level, the faster the loss. Rock concerts or Canucks' game at Rogers Arena, with 18,000 fans screaming and cheering, would be 110 dB.
In 2009 the parish released a detailed plan that included a bell tower and sent it to Port Coquitlam City Hall. The process was public; "we were exempt from the noise bylaws," Father Thompson recalled.
"The building permit application was submitted August 2009," said Pardeep Purewal, the communications manager for the city of Port Coquitlam. "City bylaw no. 2891, section 6, says the use of bells for the announcing of public worship services is a permitted exemption."
On June 13 the city's community safety committee heard from seven members of the public who live near the church, including one parishioner. They were concerned about the level of the noise. The committee also heard "several comments from the public in support of the church bells."
The use of church bells dates from the fifth century. St. Paulinus, the bishop of Nola (a town in the Italian province of Naples), used them to summon monks to worship. Pope Sabinianus (604-606), approved the use of bells to call the faithful to Mass.
"Bells are a noise made for the Lord, there's a joyful aspect to them," explained Father Alban Riley, OSB. He's the bell tower captain for the Benedictine monks at Westminster Abbey. Every time the abbey's bells chime, before Vespers and before Mass, a group of six to 10 monks produce the holy cadence.
Father Riley said a new monk would spend months learning the basic skills, and over two years mastering the bells. In Eastern Orthodox Churches, he said, a "piece of wood or metal is struck to call the faithful to prayer instead."
Father Thompson said he's trying to find a happy medium between those with concerns and those who love the bells' sounds.