Dear St. Cecilia,

As our Handbell choir director, I have spent a great deal of time impressing on the Ringers the importance of everyone participating on a consistent basis.  I ask people to bring their schedules to rehearsals to confirm the times we are to ring for worship, and the dates and times of rehearsals.  Once we have determined who can play and when, I select music very carefully to fit the number and ability of the Ringers.  I know people are very busy, so this is an improvement from a 9 month commitment to every rehearsal, and ringing for every service on the schedule.

Yet, there is still one ringer who is unpredictable.  In the last 2 months she has left town 3 times out of six scheduled times to ring for worship.  She leaves late in the week, after we have rehearsed, leaving us scrambling for a way to ring, or needing to cancel our planned song.  This often leaves the organist scrambling for some fill-in music at the last minute.  And finally, she has not contacted me directly to let me know, but instead, calls the pastor who then tells me the bad news. Her excuse always involves a family situation of (to her) some urgency.

As we prepare for the start up of the Fall season, I want to let her know that we cannot count on her, and that she will be unable to ring with us. She has not apologized for letting all of us down.  I am worried that she will be offended when I ask her not to ring.  What should I do?


Dear Director,

It is very frustrating dealing with inconsistent and inconsiderate people.  You have done your best to frame hand bell ringing as a team effort, in which we rely on each other to show up and play bells for rehearsals and worship presentations.  This situation is not pertinent only to Handbells, but also to choirs and instrumentalists who don’t show up.  We can understand a family emergency or a crisis of some kind that might happen in very rare circumstances.  Of course, we are compassionate and adapt to the situations, thinking that their problems are more important than if we play or ring or sing for one service.  What you describe is almost a chronic disregard for a basic understanding of what it means to be committed to a hand bell choir.

I would even surmise that this person might want a way out of her commitment, but may feel guilty about letting the group down.  Maybe that is why she is avoids talking to you and tells the pastor instead.  As you address the coming season and her not being part of the hand bell ringers, it may be that the pastor has some advice.  Tell the pastor of your need for reliable ringers and explain your problem with this woman’s behavior.

I would suggest that the “ending conversation” begin with her need to tend to family matters.  She needs to feel that she can help her family without feeling torn about abandoning the hand bells.  “Maybe you need a break from ringing for a while so that you are not conflicted about what to do.”  “We’ll work things out, so you need not worry.”  If she insists that she can come and really wants to ring, you might answer that the other ringers also need some certainty about their schedules too.  Be assertive and stick to your approach, “You need a break from ringing for a while so that you are not conflicted about what to do.”  It may be necessary to repeat that phrase several times in the course of the conversation so that she knows that you are firm in your decision, and that you are also concerned about her dilemma.  Repetition keeps you on track and avoids getting into arguments that may lead you to say something that’s hard to retract.

Thanks for writing.  You are in our prayers.  St. Cecilia