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Should you do anthems during Offertory?

Ladies and Gentlemen of the List,
Thank you all for your thoughtful responses to my
questions. As the compilation turned out to be about 15
pages long, I am presenting an edited version to the
list (in no specific order). I hope you find it as
engaging as I did.

-----Original Message-----
Friends (especially church music directors),
I have a difficult situation to deal with (justify) in a
meeting this Thursday-my pastor wants to eliminate the
organ offertory and have the choir anthem during the
offering at our traditional 10:45 Sunday morning
We currently do the anthem as an offertory only on
Communion Sundays or when other special additions make
the service unusually lengthy. Please share with me
thoughts on both sides of this issue. Are there
liturgical reasons to keep the organ offertory (besides
that we've always done it that way)?


Interesting question. I would be instinctively opposed
to the idea, but why?
The music seems an offering of importance by itself.
During the taking of
the monetary offering it may amount to mere "background
music." Plus, the
anthem has always been intended to highlight one of the
lessons or the Gospel
- as music elevates the spoken word. I think to remove
it from its
traditional place saps it of that impact and
Like you, we usually have an instrumental offertory
(except for ... same
exceptions!). Why? We consider the non-vocal music to a
time in the service
when worshipers can reflect on what they have sung, said
and heard; or, in some
cases, times of preparation (instrumental prelude, for
example, or communion
meditations). We also have Silence programmed into the
service, and normally
our Pastor has some silent moments in our Congregational
Prayer. So, granted,
we may be an unusual church.

This past Sunday, because of a lengthy scripture reading
(for the sermon
passage), and a complicated sermon (anticipated longer
than normal), we moved
the Anthem to the Offertory. Thankfully, it was Choir
with Brass, so the Brass
didn't get "bumped" from "their spot" (thankfully, too,
they understand this
kind of thing and know it is rare for us to do so late
in the planning stage).
An interesting comment from the preaching pastor, with
whom I worked
out some ways to economize time, and who was thankful
for my participation in it: that
the service seemed too much like we moved from one item
to the next, and without
an instrumental offertory, there was no reflective time
in the service. Good
for him to notice! (Especially because the worship
folder, already in print,
showed how different the service could have been.)

Cut to the point. I feel pressure from some of our
pastoral/professional staff
(not our senior, happily) to make it a permanent
change: combine Anthem and
Offertory. In addition to the reflective time we would
lose (and that is time
we take away from our people, by the way), we would also
take away opportunities
for our instrumental musicians to give their gifts in
the service. In addition
to organist, we have a fine brass group, string
ensemble, handbells, etc.

Keep them separate if you can.
I'll bet your people prefer it that way!

We usually have the choir sing at the offertory point.
We have three
services and time is an issue, plus, organ music for our
congregation is not
a high priority.
I would go with it and sing more hymns!

I would like to suggest that the offertory is a time
when people/church
members like to listen to a particular piece the
organist is playing and
they don't want to have to worry about singing a hymn or
being distracted by
the choir singing. The choir singing an anthem during
the offertory is a
bad idea, because the congregation will not be totally
focused on the
choir's music. After all, as music ministers our choirs
are supposed to
touch and uplift the people. If they are worrying about
the offering plates
being passed around with ushers walking the ailses, then
their attention
isn't really upon the choir and its anthem. This isn't
much, but maybe it
will help your thought process.

I am Music Director for a "mid-size" United Church
congregation in Winnipeg, MB, Canada. Our anthems are
chosen with great care to reflect the reading of the
day. We use the Common Lectionary, so planning is not
difficult. Because the anthem is a direct comment upon
the Old or New Testament lection, or the text of the
Psalm, it is placed within the section of the service
that deals with the Word. In many churches,
those "liturgical" and those not, this seems to be the
practice, as it is logical, and increases the worship
experience for all.
I am in a traditional Episcopal church and we always do
the anthem during the offering. We have always done it
that way and it saves time. It works well for us
however, the way you do it is more liturgical in nature
since both have a place in ancient liturgical practices.
Good luck. Lon
I currently direct an ELCA (Lutheran) church choir that
sings the anthem during the offering. I guess I don't
particularly mind, but I used to direct a choir in a
Lutheran church where they were adamant about NOT having
the anthem during the taking of the offering. It was
felt that if the anthem were important it should stand
alone and not have compete with the distraction of the
Two years ago I moved to a church where the choir sang
their "big anthem" during the offering, hence no organ
offertory. As a trained organist, this rankled with me a
little bit, but due to the nature of the congregation
and the fact that I was replacing someone who had been
in the job for 37 years, the ministers and I agreed
going in not to change this aspect of the service right
away. Two years later, I actually LIKE not having to
prepare an offertory, which no one really ever listened
to anyway. (And at this point in my tenure I would feel
free to change this part of the service if I thought it
necessary.) I find I can devote more energy and
attention to the choral music, and this feels good.
Doesn't mean I NEVER play during the offering - I have
occasionally done an organ offertory when we're trying
to establish a different tone for that particular
service, but it's not the norm.

Guess the long and short of this is that if there is any
particular liturgical reason to do it one way or the
other, I'm not aware of it and neither are the
ministers - but that after two years of living with
anthem offertory (and a lifetime of doing it the other
way), I actually like having the choir sing during that
spot. Go figure!

Many churches do have the choir sing during the
Offertory, of course, but
personally I do not like it because (1)I don't care for
the sound of money
jingling during the singing, and (2)the anthem deserves
listening, if for no other reason than to give focus to
the text.
Do you have a Music Comm or a Worship (Arts) Comm? The
appropriate place
for decisions like these are there - not the minister.
While the order of
service retains flexibility for small Sunday-to-Sunday
changes to allow for
various sacraments and single events, this is a bit
beyond that.

First, there needs to be discussion about the fact that
the anthem is the
choir's contribution to the service and the
congregational focus at that
time should be on the words of the anthem and how it
relates to the liturgy
of the day - not on where the ushers and the plates are
at that moment.

This is the only point in the service where the choir
asks hearers of the
Word to pause and reflect on them. Every other piece of
music in the service
pushes the service forward: the purpose of the introit
(or call to worship)
is to pull listeners into the experience of praise or
establish purpose for
the service; the prayer response (if you use one) is
closure for close
communion with God; the benediction blesses them out of
the sanctuary and
into the world.

The anthem is the music program's message to the people
of God - a type of
sermon if you will. You should ask the pastor what his
feelings would be if
other activities were going on during his.

I would counter his suggestion with the idea that you
would like for the
choir to do two special songs - one as an anthem and one
during the

Also, this really is a major change in a service and you
should suggest that
before you can agree with him you would like to know
what consensus he has
built among the congregation to justify it.

Perhaps you might remind him of II Chr. 5:12-14 "...and
when the song was
raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical
instruments, in praise
to the Lord...the house of the Lord was filled with a
cloud, so that the
priests could not stand to minister because of the
cloud; for the glory of
the Lord filled the house of God." And then ask him
what character in the
Bible HE can find, who was delivering a 'sermon', had
such a visitation so
as to cause him to shut up in awe as the priests
described in the passage?
Scriptures are full of such references. Not ONE of them
suggests any other
event was happening while the song was lifted.

Austin Lovelace writes "The minister, then, is probably
the most important
person to church music, for its level cannot rise higher
than his estimation
of its importance in the life of the church." ("Music
and Worship in the
Church", Abingdon Press, 1960, p. 41) My feeling is
that THIS is the rub
and if it is, you may have more of a problem than you

Best of Luck and may you persuasive tools come to your
aid. There has to be
something more important than adding two more minutes to
the sermon. If he
can't say it in 20 minutes (15 is even better) then he
needs to cite the place in the
Bible which places this event as the sole purpose of the
worship hour.
Liturgically speaking, an anthem never stands alone. It
always accompanies and comments on another action. I
have always done anthems at the offering... also during
communion, as the psalm, or as a creative way of
presenting a hymn or reading. I'm afraid I'd have to
side with your pastor on this one. Incidentally, I have
worked in Methodist and Lutheran parishes in addition to
my current Episcopal position.

I feel that there must be a distinction between the
anthem and the offertory. Generally, my choir sings a
piece that supports the sermon theme of the day in the
anthem part of the worship service. For the offertory, I
may reinforce the theme with another piece or one of a
general thanksgiving, meditative piece.

I work for a Presbyterian Church, congregational size of
700 members, two services, identical, blended, Chancel
Choir and worship leader with instruments.

I'm the music Minister/Pianist/Organist for my church
and also teach a Worship
class in a Theological Faculty. I always demand to be
organized and to have a
devotional structure that move the congregation to feel
the Majesty and Sanctity
of God. But what to use (musically speaking) in a
specific part of the service,
it's not a rigid stuff. At the Offering, I usually play
the piano, sometimes
someone sings, or if there is an invited singer or
musician, usually he or she
gets the part.

I see no problem that the choir or the organist do the
Offerings, but I'm
opposed in having it fixed either way. Check some
articles about Convergence
Worship and other contemporary ideas. I downloaded a lot
of articles for my
class at . Maybe you can give
your Pastor fresh and not
biased ideas.

I'll pray to God that you can settle with your Pastor
the way God wants to get
your church into a real worship experience. By the way,
check the Bible on John 4: 23, 24. That's the way God
demands from us to adore him, all what we do at
the service, is to help others to reach that.
You don't say why your pastor wants to do this. What has
been added that
makes the service so long that the choir has to sing
during the offertory?

We also sing during the offertory on Communion Sunday
but not during the
rest of the month. I guess the main reason I hate to
schedule the choir
during the offertory (or a soloist, etc.) is that the
passing of the
offering plates is distracting to the listener. The
choir is not just
background music but should be conveying a message that
enhances the sermon
about to be preached. If the choir is to be the worship
leaders, the
congregation needs to hear their message too!

Are you able to tie your anthems with the message? How
much lead time does
your pastor give you in telling you what he is preaching
so that you can
tie the anthem with the sermon? We have found this to
be important and
helpful in worship. I have gradually gotten the pastor
to submit his
sermon titles to me in enough time that I can select and
order music that
will enhance the message. (In July he gave me the
titles to all of his
sermons through the end of November and this month he
gave me the titles
through the end of December). If your pastor doesn't
believe me he can
check with my pastor!
There is no reason for either to be in either place. As
a matter of
fact, there is no real reason that there is a specific
place to take an
offering in the service. I find nothing Biblically that
mentions organ
offertories (let alone organs) or choir anthems. The
early church was
set up as what we would now call cell groups, or small
groups with
praise singing being done in those settings. In church
history, organs
and choirs as we know them, are fairly recent additions.
If you
remember, the church had taken the music away from the
common folk and
relegated it to the select few. It was Martin Luther who
brought it back
to the people to worship. True in the Old Testament the
temple was set
up with appointed musicians, but what we are talking
about in the
Christian tradition is New Testament worship.
I am the Director of Music of a small (225 members), 5
old Presbyterian church on Padre Island (Corpus
Christi), Texas. I have
a decided advantage over many church situations in that
we are still such
a new church, that there are not many opportunities for
anyone to give a
good argument for "that's the way we've always done it."

Since I also serve as organist, I have quite a bit of
input on the
placement of the various musical elements in a worship
service. I know
of no liturgical reasons for an organ offertory (not to
say there aren't
any, I've just never heard of them) If your
church/pastor/whoever decides
will permit an anthem on specific occasions during the
offertory, then I
would think it would be tough to present a case for not
allowing it all
the time. I grew up in churches where the offertory was
ALWAYS before
the sermon, with the special music or anthem immediately
preceding the
sermon. In my current church, the offertory precedes
the sermon only on
Communion Sunday. The "spot" usually reserved for the
anthem is tucked
between prayers and hymns before the sermon.

This is probably more background than you wanted to
read, but hopefully
it helps explain my decisions on placement of anthems.
I really let the
song decide. If the song is effective is setting up the
sermon, it goes
in the traditional pre-sermon spot. If it is better
used to help
summarize, it becomes the offertory after the sermon.
I move
instrumentals around this way, also. Recently, we had a
difficult sermon
on death. I played an instrumental solo on "It Is Well
with My Soul".
If I had played it before the sermon, it would have been
nice, but
playing it after was far, far more effective (as
evidenced by the
emotions shown that day).

Being flexible this way has taken a lot of pressure off
of me as
organist, and others who regularly contribute to the
music of our church
in other capacities. The choir does not HAVE to have an
anthem every
week, nor does the children's choir, or the bell choir,
or other small
singing or playing ensembles. It gives all of us a
better opportunity to
prepare our very best., which in our small church is
very important.

Having said that, as organist, I always have a
few "spare" songs ready
that will fit a variety of topics "just in case".

We almost always have a "big" organ voluntary to begin
worship, although
bells or other instrumentals are used maybe 3 or 4 times
a year. And
while I am on a soapbox, I'll also tell you that I
really dislike
playing a "prelude". To me, a prelude, by definition,
comes before
worship begins, and I use that special organ selection
to draw a curtain
between our outside world and worship. We've only
recently switched to
calling it an Organ Voluntary, and making that change
was my most recent
sticky situation to work through with the pastor! I am
very pleased
with the results - the congregation is much quieter and
more respectful.

I don't know if this was any help to you - about all I
really said was
let the song guide you. I have no doubt that God can use
every song -
just listen to what He tells you through the music.
It's worked well
for me. However it turns out for you, I wish you well
in your music
ministry. If opportunity presents itself, I will be
interested in
reading what others have to say. I may in a very
traditional church with
one traditional service (the other service is
contemporary, and I am
responsible for that music, too), but I suppose I break
all sorts of
"rules". But never before have I ever had such a
wonderful position in
an incredibly supportive church.

I don't think the Pastor wants the offering being taken
during his sermon, he wants the people focused on his
message. Likewise the message in the music the choir
presents is just as important , as it sets the stage (if
you will) for his sermon. Everything in worship should
link to the next to culminate with the opportunity for
those wishing to profess Christ as their personal Savior
to do so.
I work in the Lutheran church, so I am not sure exactly
what the
liturgical differences may be (although I expect they
are not that

My choir always sings an offertory anthem, and on non-
communion Sundays
we sometimes do an anthem before or between the
scripture readings - I
am not personally familiar with the "organ offertory" -
perhaps it is
unique to the Methodist tradition?? There may be
liturgical reasons for
this, but it also could be your congregation's tradition.

I have always seen the offering time as a time for some
music, be it
choral, solo vocal, or instrumental (including organ),
but never
exclusively organ (or exclusively anything)

So, if you are the organist and particularly like to
have this spot in
the service reserved for organ, I can understand your
feelings but can't
offer you any liturgical/historical support from my own

There are some anthems that just work better in the
beginning of the
service, and so that might be one way to defend placing
the choir anthem
early followed by the organ offertory as you have
described it
I have only one reason for the choir not to sing during
the offertory, but it's a big one...the congregation
isn't really listening. They're fumbling around watching
the ushers, stuffing envelopes, finding loose change.
Meanwhile, your dedicated choir members have spent hours
of their valuable VOLUNTEER time preparing a piece to
assist in everyone's worship, and nobody is worshiping.
Hope this helps...remind your pastor of the work that
goes into an anthem and what it means to the choir to be
able to share their God-given gift of music.
At my current church, the anthem has for years been done
during the offertory. This particular church has a real
phobia about the choir's "doing a performance." I, of
course, feel that the anthem is a ministry of its own.
The minister wouldn't like the offering's being taken
during his sermon...What I have gradually begun doing is
having a soft prelude on the anthem material while the
ushers are coming forward. This way, the offering is
usually finished before the anthem. I still hear
mutterings that we are putting on a performance. Part of
it comes from the choir, who had minimal demands for
musical quality placed on them in the past. But the
complaints are gradually lessening. I don't know if
we'll ever quite get to a whole organ offertory before
the anthem (which I grew up with, in Atlanta), but we
are definitely making progress in having the choir and
the congregation respect the choir's ministry.

My own background and the first two church jobs featured
a "stand-alone"
choir anthem that did not accompany any action. I grew
up with it and
didn't think it odd whatsoever. My Catholic experience
was the first time I
experienced the choir anthem accompanying a liturgical
action. We sing each
week during offertory and sometimes during communion as
well. It took some
adjustment to acclimate myself to the "new way."

Now, I must say that I actually prefer the "Catholic
way," or better,
"liturgical way." My reason is this: the liturgy
should flow from one
facet to the next: for instance, the readings and
sermon issue the call to
stewardship (offertory), then to unity through
Eucharist. When the choir
sings an anthem that stands alone, the flow of the
liturgy seems to grind to
a halt for what some may perceive as a "performance"
then starts up again
afterward. On the other hand, when the choir
accompanies an action, it is
more fully integrated into the liturgy and deepens the
profundity of the
action it accompanies. A purely non-liturgical reason
for doing it as a
part of the action is that it promotes the idea of the
choir members as
servants and not so much as prima donna performers. I
have found that, even
though our singing occurs during offertory, the people
are still highly
attentive and very much appreciate our work.

If the reason your pastor gives for having the choir
sing during offertory
is a liturgical one, it bears hearing out. If it is
simply to shave a
little time off the service, that is completely wrong.
People will stay in
a restaurant for a good hour or more for a meal, why
can't they spend at
least that amount of time once a week in church?
In several churches I have served, the choral anthem was
normally presented
during the offering, which I take it you mean when you
say "offertory." In
the more liturgical traditions (Roman Catholic,
Lutheran, Episcopal), the
offertory is the sung music to accompany the action of
bringing the bread and
wine forward for communion, along with the offering
plates, NOT the music sung
or played while the offering is being gathered from the
congregation. In any
event, I can offer no worship-related reason for not
having the choir sing as the
offerings are gathered. There may, however, be other,
practical reasons for
not changing your ways.
In the Episcopal liturgy, during the offering is the
preferred time for the anthem. The other places within
the liturgy where an anthem could be used are between
readings and during communion. In a service where the
sermon precedes the offering, I prefer the "at the
offering" arrangement. The anthem then becomes an
opportunity to reflect on the lessons of the day and to
prepare for coming to the table.
We always do the anthem during the offertory. It works
well at our church . When it is something very special
we move to the steps and use the grand piano! Another
solution is do a Choral Meditation when you want it and
play an organ selection during the offertory. Use a
powerful organ then you won't hear the silver hitting
the plate.
PERSONAL NOTE from Tony: I too am “instinctively
opposed” as one writer phrased it to the idea of
singing during the offering, especially when the anthem
draws applause or “Amens” occasionally (our 1400 member
congregation is split on the issue of applause in
church, but that’s another story…). I thought my
organists would appreciate having to prepare one less
piece each week, but they are adamantly against it. Most
of all, I think that each piece of music has its own
message and its own purpose, and I don’t want to deprive
the congregation of the opportunity to receive that

Tony Bernard, Music Ministries Director
St. Andrew United Methodist Church
3455 Canton Rd.
Marietta, Ga 30066

on July 2, 2002 10:00pm
I use to have a real problem with the idea of getting "bumped" into the offertory spot of the service. It generally occured when we had extra ensembles singing/playing within the normal music placement. (I don't recall why your pastor wanted the choir rather than the organ.) Now, if the choir anthem goes into the offertory, I make sure to personally introduce the piece in a way which highlights the anthem, but also to bring more focus to the offering of music which is about to happen. Our congregation sees the offertory as one of the highest moments of praise in the service. They do appreciate me speaking about the music previous to the music being performed. Just breaking up that silence before an offertory anthem would generally start really helps refocusing your congregation. Any pastor who insists on this placement should try his/her sermon during the first half of the service or at the offertory to see what it is like! I bet they wouldn't!
on February 18, 2003 10:00pm
As a member of my church's choir at Stratford Ct United Methodist Church, I feel the anthem should be separate from the offertory. I feel that in every service there is at least one element that brings the worshipper in touch with God. Some weeks it's the sermon, some weeks the children's message, some weeks the scripture reading, and some weeks the music. The anthem du jour can be "lost" with the disruption of passing the plate and friendship book. A worshipper may miss the connection he is looking for if only for a few moments while giving his gifts.
on May 8, 2003 10:00pm
Don't all the reasons for NOT having the anthem during the collection (noisy, people distracted and not listening carefully, background music, etc)also apply to the organist having to play a piece during the collection? Why do we have ANY musical performance going on during the collection? If for some uplifting reason, then it shouldn't matter if it is an organ solo or a choir anthem.
on March 6, 2005 10:00pm
We recently away from having the anthem during the offertory. Our service is now planned so that the offering is taken during the announcement time, allowing the athem to stand as the important element of the service it should be. This particular arrangement allowed the change to occur without adding any additional time to the service. It has worked extremely well, and there have been no negative comments of which we are aware.
on October 15, 2010 6:30am
Terry. We just adopted this and it is working very well. We close the announcements (are they not offerings too?) and collection with a hymn/sung response. How has it taken 25 years to find this simple solution. N