The Bells’ Toll: After Neighbors Complain of Too-Frequent Bell-Ringing, Church Adds Lots of Nighttime Chimes

Last Saturday, the New York Times had a story about the bells of the (Catholic) Church of Our Savior. The church is situated on a relatively quiet block of midtown Manhattan. Its neighbors had begun referring to the electronic, amplified bell sounds as “Chinese water torture.” It wasn’t so much the volume as the number of chimes that frayed their nerves.

(Image via Steven E. Lawson)

For years, the bells tolled twice a day, at noon and again at 6 p.m., but in September, when a new pastor arrived at the church, on Park Avenue and 38th Street in Murray Hill, he stepped up the chime schedule to 13 times a day, with additional tolls on the weekends. … The new pastor, the Rev. Robert J. Robbins, began a daily regimen of hourly chimes from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., consisting of the tones of a hymn followed by a chiming of the hour.

When a group of Murray Hill residents, Christians included, repeatedly asked the church if the bell-ringing could please revert to the old schedule, they got bupkis.

Their messages and emails to Father Robbins went unanswered, they said, but he did address the issue in church newsletters. In one, he called the bell situation a controversy created by “anti-Christian” neighbors.

And that’s where things stood until just past midnight on Monday, when the digital church bells began ringing, intermittently, all night, in addition to all the daytime peals.

The bells … left some neighbors bleary-eyed and prompted them to accuse the church of retaliating against them after an article in The New York Times about the dispute over the bells was published on Saturday.

“It woke us up from a dead sleep,” said Lorraine Hack, who lives across the street from the church. …

[T]he assumption among some neighbors, after being awaked early Monday just after midnight by a round of bell-ringing, was that the new regimen of all-night bells was retaliation for their complaints to the pastor and to The Times.

Father Robbins said that was untrue and that the repeated nighttime ringing had been “a mechanical error.” A spokesman for the archdiocese said the bells would be “repaired,” but could not offer any insights into whether the busy schedule of daytime chimes would be curtailed.

“These quote-unquote mechanical issues are an unbelievable coincidence,” remarked one skeptical neighbor.

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  • LesterBallard

    I fucking hate church bells, but then I hate any unnecessary noise.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Man, they’ll turn anything into a martyrbation fest, won’t they?

    People hate annoying noise. Hell, I bet there are even Christians out there who hate annoying noise. It has nothing to do with the fact that it’s a church bell.

    And what does god care about how often a church bell rings, anyway?

  • Mario Strada

    I was born and raised in Rome. But I spent my teenage years right outside Rome in the former King hunting reserve (now a wildlife reserve with very few, old homes).

    So I am used to the bell regimen in the city (Rome is AKA the “City of bells”) and when I went downtown for work or study I actually loved to hear the bells at noon. There are even popular songs written about the different tones and the seemingly (or real) question and answer between the various churches.

    I actually appreciate that the same way I appreciate St. Peter architecturally, the Trevi Fountain, the Sistine Chapel. It’s a dear tradition of my city of birth and it is quite impressive.

    But all the churches there have real bells (at least the many big ones) and they sound like it. While I was in the Army, we were stationed in a small village where the main church had recorded bells (with late 70’s technology). I hated those bells. They seemed to go off at every excuse and they sounded positively cheap.

    If I lived where this is going on, I would not tolerate it. Especially since the good padre is obviously following a personal vendetta.
    At the very least, I would find out where his windows were and play a trumpet under it.
    As far as I am concerned, go get a real bell and actually pull on the frigging cord, or be silent. At least if you wake me up is with the real thing and I know you are awake too.

  • They’re just following the Commandment as actually practiced, Fuck Thy Neighbor.

  • onamission5

    First Assaholians 24:7
    Do unto others what ever it is though wouldst not like done unto you. When others dost lodge complaint against thee, thou shalt double down, as it pleases thy Lord.

  • Mikko

    trumpet isn’t loud enough use a ship air horn

  • observer

    Yep, this is where the persecution starts: being asked to ring the bell at it’s old schedule, only twice a day. Next thing you know, you’re being carted off to prison camps and executed for being a Christian.

  • A3Kr0n

    Last year PZ Myers was wondering why there are no laws in the US against owning a hand held rocket launcher. I think this article answers that question.

  • RoverSerton

    I wonder if you took a bull horn from the sidewalk and announced during their service that the bells are annoying to the local people. After the 3rd service in a row, the Arsehole minister might reply to your emails. If not, it isn’t that hard to keep visiting at your leasure. (just was at a christmas service with the worst music EVER and “an old story that is fresh every year”. When the minister said that last line, he was so very wrong.

  • Fentwin


    Who would Jesus deafen?

  • Matt G

    I’m sure the all night bell tolling was an accident. Priests are men of God, and, as we all know, they NEVER lie….

  • Sue Blue

    I wonder how quickly this priest would respond to people in the neighborhood pumping out some really loud, obnoxious rap or heavy metal or other music at top volume on the street during his services? Maybe near his home in the middle of the night?

  • LutherW

    Better still, use the bull horn to quote choice passages from the bible. Isn’t that what a “bull” horn is designed to distribute?

  • Lilly Munster

    This is how we handled the same Crap in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Go to their masses with handbells and cymbals. Ring them like a madman while shouting “halleluiah, praise Jesus.” They won’t throw you out on your ass is you say “Jesus” a lot. Otherwise, fukem.

  • Flash cell phone mob?

  • “Martyrbation fest”. My new favourite expression.

  • It looks pretty much like the new pastor is being self-important (with a sprinkling of paranoid), spiteful, and good-old-fashioned aggressive. If the aggression continues, I recommend the time-tested negotiation technique called devastating retaliation.

    1. The neighbors pool some money.
    2. Rent the LOUDEST portable sound system they can afford with one-directional speakers.
    3. Play Tim Minchin’s The Pope Song (fuck the motherfucker) and Thank You God at full blast from the sidewalk into the church windows, over and over during the entire length of every service.
    4. Video the whole procedure documentary style and include statements by the neighbors about the problem, their efforts to resolve the problem amicably, the pastor’s passive-aggressive ignoring of their entreaties, his spiteful and aggressive reaction, and his cowardly lying about “mechanical error.” Send a copy to the news media, post it on YouTube, and send a copy to the archdiocese.
    5. Repeat as necessary, wait for the white flag.
    6. Enjoy quiet nights of restful sleep.

  • Kengi

    That would probably be considered disturbing the peace by local laws. Most municipalities have exceptions to those laws for religious purposes such as church bells.

    So, if we want to stoop to their level and take the low road, yet still remain legal, we need to broadcast the Islamic calls to prayer throughout the day (and night when “mechanical errors” plague our system).

  • newavocation

    Always thought the frequency and volume of church bells is directly proportional to how full the pews and collection plates are filled.

  • Good idea. I’m always for taking the high road first, but I’m not too fond of doing what hasn’t worked over and over again. The neighbors already took the high road when they asked the pastor politely to revert to the original bell schedule, but the pastor took the low road by being a childish bully and doubling down on his anti-social behavior.

  • Kengi

    How about a flash mob Hare Krishna dance?

  • Kengi

    There must be other loud, annoying things done by other religions as well. We can approach this like the response to the Ten Commandments at government facilities and make use of the open forum, which is another time the low road is needed.

  • paulalovescats

    Not every church is greedy and has gobs of money. As much as I dislike fake bells, they’re cheaper. The church down the street plays a hymn only at noon. I don’t hear it inside. I couldn’t imagine night noise bells. That would piss me off.

  • Maybe the pastor needs to hear some air-horns outside the windows of his Sunday services??

  • One could roll with a shofar.

    My personal preference would be to just make a recording of their own damn bells to blast back at them during mass and sermon. That can’t be as easily misinterpreted, and underlines just how damn annoying the bells are in the first place.

  • Kengi

    I was poking around some of the local ordinances near me on this, but came across a 2010 Federal ruling saying that even when municipalities (in that case, Phoenix) didn’t grant an exemption for churches, the city still couldn’t cite them for “sound generated in the course of religious expression” because of First Amendment protections.

    So, given that SCOTUS has said that atheism is a religious viewpoint under the First Amendment, maybe we could get away with some Tim Minchen!

    At this point I think we need a real constitutional law expert…

  • Artor

    That, and at the exact same decibel level. Show the asshole trying to say mass over that din just how obnoxious it can be. I like the shofar idea, and a muezzin while we’re at it. Ooh! Taiko drums FTW!!!

  • skeptical_inquirer

    Staying on the high road isn’t worth much as long as nobody will do anything to make him knock it off, especially that nasty little passive-aggressive tantrum he did.

  • Cuttlefish
  • I have said it before and I will say it again. It is noise pollution and the residents of that area should press charges. Oh it was a mechanical? I don’t give a fuck, it is illegal!

  • Wah. I live in Midtown Manhattan and it’s noisy. Wah.

  • Foridin

    Are there laws against owning and using ballistic missiles? If not, I believe that Monty Python video provides a solution.

  • Intelligent Donkey

    Needs more cowbell.

  • MD

    Blast sea shanties at the church during service. It’s part of Pastafarian worship. Arrrrr.

  • Randay

    I haven’t gotten around to checking, so if someone knows, could they tell me how many bells were ringing when Jesus was around?

  • Randay

    “Neighbor, n. One whom we are commanded to love as ourselves, and who does all he knows how to make us disobedient.”–Ambrose Bierce

  • Kengi
  • Lurker111

    Don’t you mean _inversely_ proportional? 😉

    Crimony. Don’t one of these neighbors have an Uncle Vinnie with a broken nose and a bad temper?

  • Taneli Huuskonen

    Do unto others whatsoever thou wilt, even though thou wouldst not that men do unto thee. When others pour out a complaint against thee, thou shalt double down, as it pleaseth thy Lord.

  • coffeecat

    I think the priest needs a personal phone call each time the bells ring at night from each of people disturbed by the bells.

  • Lori F

    Obviously all the parishioners are deaf or live too far from the church to hear the bells.
    Air horns during his sermons while shouting praise jesus

  • There was a case talked about on this blog a little while back of a person whining about church bells that happens to be a block away from where I work. The guy had been there for twenty years, the bells ringing in their current state for nearly that entire length of time, and he blamed it for all his ills (including the end of his marriage).

    That guy was whining.

    This is a bit different, with a church changing their bell-ringing in a way that is much more disruptive to the surrounding community, and everyone being harmed by it. It’s not a long-standing thing that people have acclimated to or know what they’re getting into. It’s a sudden and belligerent change which is utterly insensitive to the politely and immediately expressed concerns of the church’s neighbors. Complete with a garnish of passive-aggressive midnight “fuck you!” bells, in case anyone was thinking of sympathizing with the church. When a whole community is like, whoa, turn your shit down, it’s a bit more difficult to chalk it up to a whiner.

  • I thought lying was a sin to Christians. Oh, is it okay if it means obnoxious people get to shove their religion into others’ faces? Oh, okay, I hadn’t realized. You know it’s got to be bad when even other Christians are getting irritated.

    It’s not even a good lie. The bells are digital. That means they’re plugged in somewhere. Unplug the damned things. Problem solved! (Robert Robbins, please let me know when my consulting check is ready.)

  • Slippery slopes are slippery.

  • Literal drive-by during mass with random overpowered boomboxmobiles playing obnoxious tunes in the church loading zone? (Driver parks, puts on ear protection, plays a minute or so of something screechingly gawdawful, then turns off the radio and removes the ear protection and just drives away.)

  • I quite agree about the noise pollution. My joke at the expense of people who can afford to live in Midtown obviously showed my lack of empathy for the uptrodden.

  • Make it “Holy Smoke” and I’m in. A little Maiden ought to cure ’em…

  • Mo’ money, mo’ problems.

    As they say. 🙂

  • Like the bells from the Church of Our Savior, YOU’LL GET USED TO ME AFTER A COUPLE OF WEEKS!

  • katiehippie

    He must have decided there weren’t enough angels…

  • Emmet

    What has that got to do with anything?