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Rhythm Ringers
By Jim Hook & Carrie Wolfe
Source: The Daily South Town - Date: December 22, 2002

A new challenge was handed to Lynn Betsanes after her Palos Hills church received six new bronze bells from Russia. Someone would have to ring the bells, and the Rev. Andrew Harrison of St. Luke the Evangelist Orthodox Church wanted Betsanes' Hand Maiden Ministry to do the honors today during 9:30 a.m. services.

The Hand Maiden Ministry is a group of school-age girls, including Betsanes' daughters, 7-year old Joan and 5-year old Madeline. Initially, the job called for Betsanes and the girls to scale two flights of stairs and two ladders before reaching the bells. Climbing the ladder, Betsanes said, was a bit unnerving. "It was a little intimidating," she said. "Especially with the platform heels some of the girls wear these days. I was more than a little concerned about them on a ladder.

Lynn's husband, Greg Betsanes, and other church members recently devised a pulley system that won't compromise the girls' choice in footwear or their fear of heights. The new system, with a rope connected to each of the six bells, will be used today for the first time when Lynn and the girls will debut their musical talents.

Betsanes and the group will ring the bells for several minutes before the service begins. And they'll ring them three times during the consecration and a dozen more times during the reading of the 12 articles of the Nicene creed. While there is a certain pattern to follow during specific parts of the service, there are times when she and the girls can use their own creativity to ring the bells, Betsanes said. "I'm a hairdresser. Creativity is in my blood," she said. "The bells are played in a rhythm, like drums.You just have to keep the rhythm. They have their own distinct sounds, almost like they have their own personality."

Lynn and her daughters practiced on the bells Friday night and picked out their favorite sounds. Harrison gave them impromptu lessons. "Put a little tension on it, like this," he said. The girls followed, giggling when they played correctly.You're doing good," Harrison said encouragingly.

After pounding out the beginning of a classical Christmas carol, Madeline said she liked playing the bells "because I can sing 'Jingle Bells!'"

Each of the bells is named after a saint - Sts. Mary, Juliana, Luke, Eugene, Andrew-John and Helen - and was purchased by a St. Luke parishioner, Harrison said. "Juliana, she's very delicate," the girls' mother said of the smallest bell, which can only be heard inside the church if the trap door to the bell tower is open.

The Betsanes have been members of the church, at 10700 S. Kean Ave., for three years. Lynn received a crash-course in bell-ringing earlier this year on a set of loaned bells.While waiting for the new bells to arrive from Russia, the church received a temporary set. A deacon from New Jersey showed Betsanes how to ring them.

Ornately decorated with icons of various saints, the bronze bells were hung earlier this month in the new bell tower of the 100-year old church. Ranging in weight from 13 pounds to 332 pounds, the bells have their own distinct sounds.

Ancient Chrtians used bells to summon people to worship, Harrison said. But they were used for other purposes, too. At his former church in Canada, Harrison said parishioners, many of whom lived on farms and worked in wheat fields, believed that ringing the bells kept hailstorms and windstorms away from their crops. "The legend there was that ringing bells chased storms away," he said. "One of the farmers told me that he had actually seen storms break up over the church. That's why someone had to be in the church ringing the bells when a storm approached."

The bells will be rung this week during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services that are open to the public. On Christmas Eve, a holy supper will be held at 5 p.m., followed by a Christmas Eve service at 7 p.m. The church choir will sing Christmas carols at 8 p.m. A Christmas service will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday.


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