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Enforcing Silence during the prelude

I have compiled the many replies I received to the following question,
which began:

Do you use a statement at the beginning of your order of service
bulletin that requests the congregation to listen to the prelude instead of
talking, laughing, etc. etc.?.............

The majority of solutions received follow variations of this sequence:
1. a bell or chime brings the congregation out of their conversations.
2. a minister welcomes the congregation and then there is a time for
3. the minister then announces the beginning of worship, with an invitation
that it begin with the organ prelude.

Ruth McKendree Treen
First Congregational Church
Chatham, Massachusetts


* We also tried all kinds of ways to diminish the pre-service
talking and have finally found the answer! The service begins informally.
The pastor walks to the front of the church, greets the congregation and
then we share the peace. The pastor then makes parish announcements.
At the end of that, he says, "Let us all be in silence before the Lord."
...and then the prelude begins. It has made an incredible, positive change!

* The most effective method I've seen is for the call to worship to occur
before the prelude.

* I have seen two tactics that have helped:
1. Statements in the bulletin. My home church had the following:
"God speaks to us before the service. We speak to God during the
service. We speak to each other after the service."
2. Announcements first, then the statement "Let us now worship God,"
then the prelude. The congregation gets the impression that the
service has begun.

* "Please refrain from conversation during the Prelude:
others may wish to worship."
Or better:
".... others may have come to worship." (!!!)

* Can a note be posted on the doors to the sanctuary saying the church is
God's house and a place to be respectful (etc. etc.)? Also, could the choir
enter the church in some sort of order, (demonstrating that the choir is
going to sing). Perhaps some sort of entrance by the choir would quiet down
the congregation.
We've had a note posted on all of our doors and haven't had a problem in
Make sure, though, that your choir is leading by example (that they
talking before church starts, either).

* I used to have this problem, but we've implemented two things that
help. When it time for service to begin, we ring a bell - a chime, actually,
that cuts through the din and reminds people it's time to "attend" as it
were. We then have announcements and the usual folderol of beginning our
time together and then we have the Prelude. I suppose you could call it a
musical call to worship, but I still call it the Prelude. Even the kids
(when they're in service) know it's time to be quiet and listen deeply.
That has worked and it seems to set a tone for the rest of our time
Our bulletin also has a statement to the effect of requesting silence,
but it also has little effect.
Let's face it, subtle hints do no good on congregations. If it's that
important for your congregation (or if your congregation is exceptionally
loud), it needs to be mentioned to them directly, and specific action
I recommend having the liturgist or pastor mention (maybe even make a
sermon out of it, explaining the different aspects and symbols of
worship) that the worship experience is to begin in humble silence and
meditation, in which the prelude is an ideal accompaniment for that
attitude of prayer, and that *from now on* they are requested to enter
in silence. This will probably take a few weeks, and constant reminders
will need to be made, and there WILL be people who don't like it (and
will let you know), but I'm sure the vast majority will appreciate the
increased depth of spiritual meaning. It might be a good idea to couple
this with a few other changes as well, such as a different tune for the
doxology, order of service, etc.

* What do you see the function of the Prelude as being?
(I answered: Aha! Now we get into the purpose of music before the service.
I think of it as preparation for worship, and a time to be thoughtful, to
to pray -- a time of silence to use in whatever way the congregation finds
useful, but not as background music for conversation! Our assistant
minister brought up the need for quiet listening.)

Compilation, continued...
* So many of us "fight" this. What we currently do seems to be working,
for us, for now:
Our service begins at 5 minutes before the hour. One of our pastors
welcomes people, greet visitors, and usually reads a brief, focusing
sentence of scripture. Then we have the prelude (a different
instrumental group each week, sometimes organ), followed on the hour by
an opening hymn. We also do not process, and the choir/service
participants comes to the loft/chancel as the prelude begins. (The
choir is often in place before the prelude. The pastors come to the
chancel from the nave, signaling a start to the business at hand.)
This has helped quite a bit. Our ushers close all but one door into the
nave, and continue to seat people from the narthex. At this point,
almost all the "noise" (I hesitate to call it that ... it's people
talking to each other. That too is probably a joyful noise that pleases
God!) is from the narthex, and there is a good attention/focus among
those seated and being seated.

* you wrote : I have changed the sequence at the beginning, so that the
and ministers now enter before the prelude begins. (The choir does not
process.) And the acolyte now comes up the aisle right after the prelude
begins. This has helped the conversation level, but more needs to be done!
That's the approach we took, too, and it helped, but as you say, there
still a good bit of lolly-gagging, as we call it........
So the minister decided on the following which worked perfectly--
Everyone enters, even the choir (they sit). Before the minister sits he
says, "We will now begin our worship and praise." It takes a couple of
seconds for a few to realize they're not at WallyWorld anymore, but when
they do then I begin......

I allowed the people to talk as they came into the sanctuary and
treated this as a time of gathering (a biblical and historical part of
worship). At the designated hour, we would then welcome all who were
there and verbally call them to a time of preparation for worship so
they could prepare their hearts for an encounter with God. We THEN had
the prelude as the people meditated. Hope this helps.

* We don't have a printed statement in our bulletin, but my prelude
usually is quite loud, so it can be heard above the congregational din.
I save my best and most thoughtful music for the offertory, which is played
when the congregation is in a more prayerful (and quiet) mood.

* The chapel at Walter Reed Army Hospital used to have a lovely sign on a
4-foot post that read, "If you must whisper, whisper a prayer." Try it.

* Our church has solved the problem--at least so far. A few minutes
before our service starts we have announcements, and we greet each other for
about five minutes (they can get as loud as they want!). We then have a
prayer that is read in unison. Then, the Prelude is performed. The unison
prayer sets everyone's minds for worship, and there is absolute silence in
the congregation.

* Try playing a very spirited Prelude, gradually building the
registration until you're playing on full organ. Naturally, the
congregation will talk even louder to "keep up" with you. When you
arrive at a suitable -- but unpredictable -- cadence in the music, take
your hands off the keys. Before the congregation's lips smack shut,
somebody will have been caught shouting something embarrassing, like
church gossip or recipe ingredients. They will be much quieter during
Preludes after that.

* Before the prelude our pastor steps up to the pulpit and says: "Let us
quiet are hearts and prepare for worship" or something along those lines...
It doesn't silence all the talkers, but in general people hush up.
We have another time to greet people around you... "the passing of the

* At Temple Israel in Miami I have started making the Preludes part of
the Rabbi's "Schematic," meaning the music presented is planned as part of
the liturgy for that service. Latecomers or talkers now are begining to
realize that they are missing something integral to the mood and pacing of
the service. We have also started skipping an opening hymn, and going
directly from the Prelude into the lighting of the Shabbat candles. So, I
now don't make the Prelude distinct from the service, but integral to the
service. It is working!!

* A couple of Sundays of stopping abruptly in the middle of your prelude
the noise gets too loud will help embarrass them, if not shut them up. It
does work, I've done it! Use a piece that is soft and loud - notice how the
louder you play the louder they talk - choose a spot in the loud section to
just stop playing. Do nothing . . . just let the silence continue until the
service starts.
You'll probably catch them trading Chicken Salad recipes, or gossiping

* We ring a beautiful bell which we call THE BELL OF AWARENESS. Everyone
has learned to be quiet for the prelude which follows. We also addressed the
issue from the pulpit and it was the general consensus that people wanted
the silence for the prelude. It even works for our postlude. Everyone sits
and listens!

* We print the following in our bulletin: The service of worship begins
with the music of the organ. Through it's power and brilliance, may you
feel the majesty and glory of God; in it's quietness, God's peace.
I have also found it helpful to give any instructions for the worship
service prior to the prelude and then inviting all present to prepare their
hearts for worship as the prelude begins.

* Our church has changed the order of service to put the announcements
before the prelude. The choir and minister walk in, and when the
minister is finished reading the announcements, he says something
like "Now let us prepare our hearts for worship." This has worked
quite well getting the congregation quiet for the prelude, and the
announcements don't interrupt the flow of the service either.

* Personally, I've got mixed feelings about quiet during the prelude.
Before the change I had fun during the prelude, sneaking in, as a
modulation, a line of songs like "Mary had a little lamb" and "Puff,
the Magic Dragon" just to see if anyone noticed. (Nobody ever did).
Also, I never had to worry about playing the music perfectly. Now
that it's quiet during the prelude, I can't do that anymore, although
it is nice to start off the service with a worshipful attitude.

* One thing that has REALLY worked in my congregation is to have a short
time of parish announcements given 5-10 minutes before worship is to
begin, lead by the pastor in our case, or it could be a lay
could go from general announcements to announcing the numbers in church
school for that moment. THis gets people silent and focused. Immediately
after I start the prelude, and the acolyte gets to work. It has really
worked well for me.

* Check AGO magazine, a few months ago, had MANY letters to the editor
regarding this.
Back in August we started having the handbells ring a peal before the
prelude begins. I use three or four ringers, and each plays some sort of
repetitive pattern. I figure out what they will play each Sunday, in the
key of the organ prelude. It has really worked for us, but it is
important that the congregation can hear and SEE the handbell ringers. We
pealed from the balcony one Sunday and the conversations didn't skip a beat!

* You could have the prelude after announcements and welcome. That wasy
all would have been seated. Gathering time, when organists frequently play
a prelude, is by nature noisy.
* Having been a full-time church musician for seventeen years,
I'm sympathetic to your plight. Just one note -- an associate pastor,
when we were discussing this issue, once asked me the following question:
"If the prelude is part of the service, what is it the prelude to?"
I couldn't come up with a very good answer. Perhaps a name change might
be in order, e.g. Voluntary, etc.

* This is a dilemma for me too! Our "statement," which has no
effect, especially at the later(main) service, reads:
"As we enter into God's Sanctuary this morning,
may we prepare ourselves in quiet meditation to Worship God."
(This is exactly as it appears, in bold type but above the heading "ASSEMBLE
IN GOD'S NAME" designating the first section of the worship service.)
I raise the issue with Pastor & worship committee from time to time, but the
response is usually that the conversation indicates good fellowship and is
not to be stifled. Our layout contributes: the entrance area is low
ceilinged, rather small and dark, while the sanctuary is a pleasant, light
and airy space, in simple Colonial style, with some reverberation.
The entrance of the acolyte & clergy doesn't produce quiet either. Only
when I ring the chime after the opening voluntary do the people settle down.
(Bong Bong BONG, 3 times)
At other churches I have served, the people were in the habit of not talking
once they entered the sanctuary space. In one place I played "pre-service
music" for ten minutes, before the official start of worship with the
opening voluntary. Nobody ever talked through any of it. There was a "be
still" statement in the bulletin, but more likely there just weren't that
many people there and/or they weren't awake yet :-)
I don't have a solution, just deal with it by varying the kinds of music I
play, and trying to make it worth listening to for those who can hear it.

* Right under the "order of worship" title...
"We welcome you to our service this morning and ask that you use the
Prelude as a time of silent preparation for worship."
and it works...
now at the end.... that's another story, but here's what we have:
Upon leaving the sanctuary this morning, please be mindful of those
choosing to use the Postlude as their final act of worship.

* I think it cuts both ways. A really quiet worshipful church for 10
minutes before the service begins is also less welcoming to new people,
and is also less celebrative (my choir sings a call to worship and
processes with the opening hymn). I think you need to look for a middle
ground (a modicum of decorum is a nice thing) rather than an edict of some
kind. Just my view of it.

* At my parents' church (Baptist, fwiw), it is
understood that things get started five minutes or so
before 11. At that time someone comes out and does the
announcements, after which the organist chimes the
hour and then plays the prelude. People still talk a
little bit, but for the most part having someone come
out and talk and get people's attention seems to make
them realize that things have started. There may also
be a statement...let me see if I have a bulletin from
last time I was down there on a Sunday...nope, no
statement, but there is a heading about the gathering
of God's people before the listing of the
announcements ("Life and Work of the Church,"
actually) and after that another heading, "Preparation
for Worship" before the chiming of the hour and
prelude (and the chiming of the hour is listed in the
order of worship)

* About twenty years ago, when talking to pastor and
committee about a position in a Methodist church, I
simply told the committee that I just didn't want to
play over conversation. My proposal was simple and
generally effective: Before the service starts, the
minister comes out, makes any and all the usual
announcements and at the conclusion of the
announcements simply tells the congregation that it is
now time to turn our attention to preparation for
worship while or organist shares the prelude. THEN,
and only then, does the prelude begin.
With few exceptions, this order has eliminated that
all rude noise. I've held a number of poistions in
other churches since then, but have always insisted on
this procedure because it works.

* A few years ago we solved this problem. Our normal order of worship
begins, not with the prelude, but with the ringing of the church bell
when the choir and the ministers enter. This is followed immediately
by any and all announcements. After the announcements, one of the
ministers uses a phrase like "Let us now prepare for worship" and
then the prelude begins followed by an introit, call to worship,
opening hymn, etc.

* We have the announcements before the prelude,
which has helped tremendously.

* I have basically given up at my current parish on expecting much
(much less silence) during the prelude - our congregation, and to some
extent our pastors, see(s) this as community time and so you can pretty much
forget about people not talking. Those that don't talk don't seem to have
much effect on silencing those that do, in other words, the talkers don't
seem to think it at all unusual to be gabbing away and have someone in the
next pew sitting there reverently. This factor varies from service to
service - our early service crowd, mostly older folks, are really pretty
reverent - as the morning proceeds, the cacophony builds.
A year ago, I visited the Vatican in Rome and got to see the Sistine
- talking is not allowed - yet, there is a staff person on hand to
periodically (every 2-3 minutes) say "Silencio!" because the whispering
builds and then turns to talking and must be suppressed - it seems to be a
human trait to just never be capable of shutting up! I was very distracted
by this and ended up leaving - maybe I can visit there again when it's not
the high tourist season....
I have come to believe that reverence is a learned behavior that takes
perhaps many years to learn, and some worshipers never are given an
opportunity to learn it - therefore, you are going to beat yourself into
frustration if you think you can demand silence and actually get it
We also encourage children to attend worship, and once families are in
there, it's hard to keep it down - and of course, the adults are generally
making as much or more noise than the kids
During our evening Lenten services, we dim the lights, use candles,
off one of the entrance doors, and post a sign that says "Please keep
silence as you enter the sanctuary" - this has been partially effective, and
it is helpful if the music is already going when the congregation begins to
be seated - it seems that whichever starts first, music vs. talking, will
claim and retain the upper hand.
One other solution that may work has been in practice for many years in
church of which I am a member: a Taize prayer service that begins 15
minutes prior to the start of the worship service. It sets a quiet mood,
and the congregation understands that if they enter the sanctuary, silence
is expected - if they want to socialize they can go downstairs to the
fellowship hall - we began this practice in 1992 and it has continued to
this day - and I believe that this particular congregation does understand
and appreciate reverence and silence.

* Your idea about seating the choir before the prelude is a good one - I
used this practice from time to time, but I also have to swear my choir to
silence and remind them that if one or two start talking, that's all it
takes to break the meditative mood.

* Do you also print that the congregation should not laugh during prayer?
If the prelude really gets to the congregation there is no need to ask
for silence. I had a congregation which was used to raise at the first
note of the postlude to storm out talking and laughing. I never requested
that they wait for the postlude. However, it started that a few people
stayed to listen; then an increasing number sat down to listen causing
the others to leave in silence and after a few months the whole congregation
sat down after the benediction to listen to the postlude and to leave
afterwards in silence: There was no organ play anymore to quench the noise.

* Silence seems to be more and more difficult for people these days. The
whole world has attention deficit disorder, as far as I can see. And I think
the idea behind Muzak has crept into the church---so that the prelude is
just like what they play in the store while you're shopping. In fact,
whenever my congregation shuts up for the prelude it gives me the creeps.
One church I know of starts the service with the acolytes (or anyone,
for that matter), coming down the aisle with rainsticks. That sound signals
to people that something is going to happen. It's a little earthy-crunchy
granola for my Episcopal folks here in north Jersey, but maybe the folks up
in your neck of the woods would dig it.
I like your suggestion of having the ushers greet people in a soft
The other side of this is ~ the formality of church and the feigned
piety is what has turned people off in the past. If people are quiet because
it's something they think they should be doing, then it's going to make them
think that church is the kind of place where they can't be themselves. And
if the silence is not followed by something profound and meaningful from the
pulpit and musicians, they won't see any point to it.
I'd say if the feelings are good amongst the people, it's not worth a
big fight.
Rest assured there's someone out there listening to your prelude!
I play in a temple, too. There's no tradition of silence before the
service. What a din!

* Over my many years in this position, we have tried everything you
listed and have found that, without oral reminders almost weekly, none of
them works. Our choir processes on the opening hymn. For awhile we tried
having the minister give Opening Words (from the rear) ending with "...and
now our morning Prelude Music." This did necessitate beginning the service
5-10 min. earlier, or ending later. The RE program had issues with the
timing. Another thing we have done is position the ushers in the Narthex
(vestibule), keeping the swinging doors closed after each entrant and that
had the best chance of succeeding. However, some felt it was 'unfriendly.'
I find that the ushers themselves are often noisy and set the pattern of
behavior. Isn't it amazing how most churches are caught in what is almost a
cultural shift? We even have a Moment of Friendship buried within the
service just after the children leave for class. But that does not seem to
the chance encounters as people arrive.
By the way, our building is a stone Gothic structure (Ralph Adams Cram's
last cathedral!) seating 400 easily, so the architecture supports formality
and dignity and tradition. Even so ........

Dear Colleagues,

The following reply agrees with the summary I headed my compilation with --
and is so well written that I thought you'd want to see it.

I tried to thank everyone for such helpful e-mails -- hope I didn't miss

Ruth McKendree Treen
First Congregational Church
Chatham, Massachusetts


"We are fortunate to have 2-octave chimes that are activated from the organ
console keyboard. When the minister enters the sanctuary, the organist
plays a short sequence of chimes to signal the beginning of silent time.
The minister then steps forward and makes any announcements that are timely
or have been left out of the bulletin. She then welcomes all to worship and
asks them to enter a quiet time of meditation. This is followed by the
prelude during which time the acolytes process forward to light the
candles. We then proceed to the Call to Worship, etc.

This has worked well for several years. It was done for two reasons:
(1) out of respect for the organist (our congregation is extremely
music-centered and supportive of the music program);
(2) the deacons heard that there were a few people who would sit in their
cars in the parking lot for some centering time & space that would allow
them to move from the hustle-bustle of the outside world to the quiet,
worshipful place of sanctuary.

The only "down" side to this format (and only in the minds of a few folks
who believe that worship should be accomplished in an hour) is that, from
the moment the minister enters to the end of the postlude, the service
lasts about 75-80 minutes. Long by Congregational standards but certainly
not as long as some of our Baptist brethern!"

on October 13, 2002 10:00pm
This seems to be a problem everywhere.
A comment: Why, oh, why do priests in the Catholic church say to a gathered assembly that has just sung a rousing opening hymn "And now we begin our the name..etc? The prayer began as the people sang.
In the ELCA Lutheran church where I lead the choir, I have reminded them at least twice this fall to not talk during the organ prelude(which comes before a recorded chime sequence and the pastor's announcements.) Our congregation seems to pour through the doors during the organ prelude.
We have a marvelous organist who is also our choir accompanist.
Choir has done preludes and it is amazing that the people that are present
and not still coming in the doors are listening!
on June 1, 2003 10:00pm
I attend a large church and it's simply not an issue with us at all. It takes an extended prelude for everyone to come in from Sunday School (after picking up kids and walking to the sanctuary) and find a seat. The acoustics of the sanctuary mute the cangregation and is designed for instruments and the amplification system to be heard. The choir enters during the prelude and most of the congregation is settled by the end of it. Merely background music? Perhaps. But what's so bad about that? It takes real ego to think that the prelude OUGHT to be the center of focus. It is odd to think that we need to prepare for a period of worship if we already try live our lives in constant worship.
on July 21, 2003 10:00pm
Remember that people can be in utter silence but no worship be going on internally. The act of silence is by no means a gauge of spirituality. Silence can show our respect for others who do wish to pray, though. Whenever you have silence, remember to encourage the congregation to actually use the time for prayer and worship. Otherwise (besides the issue of respect for others), it doesn't matter how quiet they are as the [organ] plays.

On a historical note, do some reading about "classical audiences" and their behavior (which influence our perceptions of "how things should be") 20th century decorum has by no means been the norm, historically! You'll find out some interesting things. Musicians have long been on the losing end of the battle for audiences' devoted attention!
on August 10, 2004 10:00pm
These thoughts "scream out" Protestantism. Even in the reformed [read: degraded] liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church, the most insensitive people realize that they are there for a religious event, not a cocktail or office party. Hence, the behavior of the the mainstream RC crowd does not have to be corrected, nor do they have to be told to "shut up, for once".
I have played in many places of both Protestant & Catholic religions. Every time I enter a Protestant church to play for them, invariably I wonder to myself why these people are actually there.
I would not call it worship, but can't think exactly what it might be, other than an hour social club meeting.
on March 12, 2005 10:00pm
When will everyone grow up about this and all other issues vis-a-vis church:
1). Church is about GOD.
2). If the prelude is about GOD, (and meaningful to listen to) people will listen, and therefore start their communication with GOD during the playing of the prelude.
3). Any congregation will respond appropriately to what is expected if what is presented is done so firstly, in reverence for God; secondly, out of love for the worshipers in their relationship to God; and thirdly, in an appropriate medium and manner appropriate to the spiritual and cultural experience of the worshipers.
4). After 25 years of playing preludes in low Baptist, high Anlican, Catholic, non-demoninational, Presbyerian, Methodist, Lutheran, and Congregational churches, I have never experienced talkative congregations that don't catch on. The one exception would be weddings: many people attending weddings are not experienced church attenders and therefore those who aren't there for a sacred purpose don't have a clue about communicating with God in advance of worship with sounds of sacred music in the "background," or whatever placement the music is given in any description of its presence in worship (which will always differ from person to person among those attending the same service).
on October 15, 2010 6:45am
Our current solution. Everyone has coffee and converstation time before chruch (in the sanctuary/main church room and lobby). I play no prelude and the service begins when the pastor welcomes every one and announces "our worship will begin in a few mintues..." - or similar words - and we all take our positions. --- funny, no deduction of my pay for not playing a 10min prelude. N.