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Church Sanctuary Policy?

This past August, when I began working at this United Methodist Church, the Pastor remarked how nice it was that I set the tone for the upcoming service by playing quiet and reverent music 10 minutes before the service. While I appreciated the comment, I have noticed that no one else and nothing else sets that tone. Many times, even though I am ready myself, the service either can begin late or people will not come into the church until the first hymn is announced and is half way through the first verse. Even though I have the choir come and sit in the church during my playing the quiet music, many of them walk out to the coffee area and socialize and run into the church maybe one minute before the service, almost tripping on their choir gown.
While we do have a sign on the sanctuary doors to turn off all cell phones while in church, there seems no reverence with respect to the fact that we are there to worship God. Kids running around with parents oblivious to their behavior, people talking, loud noise volume etc. Maybe its a part of our too modern society, but do your churches have a Sanctuary policy about such things or I am just too old fashioned?
Replies (10): Threaded | Chronological
on March 10, 2014 4:58am
Mr. Crino -- are you the only member of your church with these concerns? Your pastor and members of the governing body of members (council, committee, etc) should take it upon themselves to quell this behavior. The ushers are the ones who should confront individuals with cell phones and politely ask them to put them away/turn them off. As far as late starts, that is completely dependent on your clergy being disci[lined enough to start on time. Again, the governing body should confront him on this behavior, if real change is wanted by the congregation. If YOU are the only one seeing these rude behaviors then you may have to bow out and accept what your church accepts or look for a different position.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on March 10, 2014 5:03am
Well Charles, welcome to the world of «Messy Church».  After over 50 years as an Organist & Choirmaster I can look back on similar experiences (most of which I left behind as quickly as possible), and a FEW positions where reverence and decorum, including VALUING the Organ preludes/voluntaries was as ingrained as the Apsotles' Creed.  One reaches a point where bending is preferable to breaking. The formalities of worship have by and large been discarded by the latest generation of church «leaders».  Seminaries promote «warmth and coziness» and making «worship» more like happy hour at the night spot just down the street. The current wisdom is that this will help fill empty pews.  I think it has been pretty well debunked but it will take at least another generation for it to die out, and, of course, like any fad, it will never completely disappear. 
The church where I serve presently offers many «perks», it is a HAPPY place with a fine liturgical tradition, a dedicated choir and a fine organ. However, it is useless to think of playing befor the service as (a) most choir members have other Sunday morning duties so cannot seem to get to a warmup until 0945h or later (with a 1000h Processional); (b) the bulk of our congregation, once walkers from the dozen or so blocks around the church, now drive 20-30 miles from all directions to attend and so only see each other on Sundays. «VISITING» is the order of the day until the Announcements start , preceeding the Processional.  
You might ask to have «Announcements» at, say, 1055 for 1100.  Nothing attracts attention faster than the possibility of missing some «tidbit» of «news». Once people are in place and the Announcements have probably been repeated for the benefit of the slackers, the Opening Hymn can be announced.
At one church I served, the Announcements were given, then the Pastor and choir would SIT while I played a short Choral Prelude on one of the day's hymns or timely to the season and so noted in the Leaflet. After an appropriate silence the Pastor would rise and announce the Opening Hymn. I rather liked that approach.
Some churches I have served had a discreet «banner» on the front of the Leaflet noting that: Many people find God in silence and prayer before the service begins. Please do not disturb their quest.  We heartily encourage socialisation at the Coffee Hour following the service.  Or, some variation thereof. 
Most unfortunately, we have entered an era of «individualism» and «entitlement». While I am of the «silence and prayer» bent, and find the jabbering and constant movement really distracting and annoying, I have learned to balance that with all the other «plusses» I enjoy and just «turn it off». 
Best of luck with coming to terms with this problem!
Applauded by an audience of 3
on March 10, 2014 8:05am
We do announcements before the worship service, as we feel that they are not part of worship, and they are followed by the prelude, which is announced by saying "let us prepare our hearts and minds for worship with the prelude". Also, we trained our congregation to listen to the announcements simply by having the church bell ring right at 9:30 (our start time) and the pastor launch right into the announcements whether or not people were paying attention. They learned quick.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on March 10, 2014 9:08am
Charles et. al.:  Bingo.  This is the problem with "worship" in the modern Church.  All the talk of "reverence," "adoration," "thanksgiving," "prayerfulness" - mouthed constantly, executed rarely.  I myself will have to talk to our organist about playing "quieter" than he does - he uses it as an opportunity to do the practicing he ought have done before at home.  The problem is, I'm not his boss; hence, the most I can do is make it clear that this is something that is desired by the pastor or the celebrant (at Mass), and is good pastoral practice.  With the emphasis on "warmth" and "coziness" in our modern Church, the idea that you're there FIRST to worship God has taken a clear back seat.
Some years ago, I was recording the reminiscences of a young former Baptist seminarian who had moved from the Baptist to the Orthodox (!!!) Church.  His basic plaint was that in most Protestant denominations, Christ and God were treated and seen as "buddies" - y'know, the sort of guy you'd go out to the local bar and have a drink with - and that reverence, awe, adoration had gotten lost in the mix.  When I asked him whether he'd looked at Catholicism en route to Orthodoxy, he excused himself, but allowed as how even Catholics do not see God with the requisite degree of awe and worshipfulness.  Point taken.  Perhaps the first thing is to look in the mirror at ourselves and examine our attitudes and behaviors; next, look at the choir, and tell them plainly that whatever needs doing be done before they come into the sanctuary - because then, they are ministers to the community, and they have to set a tone.  Finally, if we are not ourselves the organist, we can either tell the organist to play quietly, OR NOT AT ALL.  Imagine the confusion that would arise - the only noise to be heard is all the stuff coming out of people's mouths - and eventually, folks might even begin to think that something was wrong - but if the choir appears to be praying reverently, if there is no movement or sussuration from the choir and anyone else in the sanctuary - and IF (O! mighty word) all the needed actions to prepare the sanctuary had been done before the choir comes in and sits down - then perhaps the community might begin to catch the drift.  And IF (again, O! mighty word) the pastor/celebrant/minister(s) were themselves to either be seated praying or perhaps - God forfend! - telling people that this is an opportunity to pray and dispose oneself for the sacred mysteries (Aha!  Americans HATE that word) that were to begin shortly, we might begin to get back to a proper disposition in church.
I know; it's too much to ask.  Or is it?  Maybe we need to start asking that question, not just of ourselves, but if we are leaders, of others as well.  What do you all think?  And incidentally, Clay, nice touches - wonder if we couldn't do that ourselves.
Chantez bien!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 10, 2014 8:29am
This is really frustrating for me. I don't think we can set a policy, but we can try to set a culture. i think it's a theological conversation, and that is never easy.
on April 11, 2014 4:27am
I just came back to this thread out of "idle curiosity" and, curiously enough, after having just read an interview with an archbishop who, as a young priest, was a secretary at the Second Vatican Council.  In a very real sense, the burden of the interview, discussing "liturgy," comes back precisely to your point, Robin - this IS a theological conversation, and a cultural one as well.  Some years back, my wife and I had visited a very ancient church, St. Mary-de-Castro (St. Mary of the Camp) in Leicester, England.  Long story very short, we had purchased some windows from their clerestory that they had removed and they are now in our home.  I had gone to their website some years later, and there was a posting from "The Secret Worshiper" - someone from one of the local newspapers who would go to some liturgical event, and rate them on a scale of 0 ("I attended a liturgical event??!!??") to 10 ("I was transported to the Seventh Heaven!!!").  This particular time, the "secret worshiper" had attended Evensong at St. Mary's, and had rated it a "2" because she (I think it was a "she") felt that what happened inside the church had no relationship whatsoever to what was happening outside.  Had I known how to contact this "worshiper" I would have said, "Bingo!  You grasped, in despite of yourself, an essential truth:  that the purposes of entering the church differ from what happens when you've left the church, insofar as we enter to worship God and hear His Word, and then go forth AFTERWARD and put that Word into practice.  If you want to know what the church's social policies and actions are, go to their website or bulletin; but when we come INTO the building, it's a very different point and culture and theology from when we go OUT FROM the building."  This, I would argue, is where the difficulty is in church and liturgy on Sunday mornings (or any other time we do something liturgically):  the language is different, the actions are different, the point is different, from what we do once we go out into the world.  It should inform what we do, it should inspire what we do; but we don't speak out-of-doors like we do in church; we don't act that same way; and so our liturgy and preparation within doors must differ markedly from what's done outside.  This includes such matters as choirs walking in quietly, sitting down without a lot of fussing about (never have I seen twelve people act like sevent-nine as a choir as mine does, especially the ladies - forgive me! - getting themselves "set" when they come in), being quiet once "set," and the organist either playing quietly or not at all, before Mass.  That would establish that the ministerial portion of the community sees that they must prepare themselves spiritually for what is about to occur.  That will be a model for the remainder of the worshiping community.  Maybe?
Chantez bien!
on April 10, 2014 1:25pm
What made a BIG difference in my current parish was to place signs out in the narthex, politely inviting people to enter the sanctuary in silence.  We did this a few different times during specific seasons, but it seemed to stick and now people are generally very quiet in the sanctuary.  The signs were in special freestanding sign holders so they were hard to miss.  Of all the parishes I have ever served, this one seems the most attentive to the prelude music.
Julie Ford
on April 11, 2014 9:25am
At the church where I sing, the music is considered integral to worship, and the clergy embrace and uplift the music. Here's how they integrate prelude and postlude into worship.
The gathering time is published as 10:25 - everyone gets there on time. Clergy begins by offering greetings, announcements, news, and anything they want to share about that particular morning's worship. Then they have the passing of the peace, shaking of hands, etc. THEN the pastor says, in exactly these words, "We begin our worship with the ministry of music." Then the organist plays the prelude. The bulletin shows the composer and title and might include a very brief note (one sentence) about how the prelude music is connected to other music or words in the service, such as if it is a chorale-prelude on a hymn tune that we will sing later, or if there is a connection to a scripture reading. And the program always carries this note: "The prelude is a time for quiet reflection and prayer as we prepare to worship God." No ambiguity there! And the congregation has learned to sit silently.
BTW, the bulletin always includes the words to anthems and solos, even when they are sung in English.
Organ postlude: The organist plays something exuberant and often virtuosic.* The congregation may choose to stay to listen, or leave quietly to go to coffee hour. As with the prelude, the bulletin lists composer and title, and carries this note: "In order for everyone to leave worship with a sense of exuberance and the joyous sounds of the organ in their ears, we invite the congregation to leave the sanctuary during the postlude and those who may wish to hear the postlude to its end to remain. Those who mnay want to have a 'closer look' at the organ and organist in action are invited to move into the chancel and remain there during the postlude."
Some people leave, many stay, and a surprising number do go into the chancel where then can stand behind the organist and see him or her "in action," and then have some conversation with the organist. I think this is a great way to de-mystify the music and demonstrate that it belongs to all. I especially enjoy seeing the regular crowd of kids and youth who want to learn more. This postlude practice has been in place for 2-3 years and has been a great success. No one feels "captive" during the postlude, and those who relish the music are encouraged to stay and soak it up.

Needless to say, this is a music-loving church whose clergy perceive music as an enhancement and enrichment, not as competition or ancillary.
*Except during Lent, when the service ends with a choral benediction.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 11, 2014 4:08pm
One more thing to consider, beyond the many good points already made.   Your "quiet and reverent music": is this improvisation?  If so, you might ask yourself, are you really producing a musical experience for a listener that is worth listening to?  Improvisation so often is simply boring noodling.   Maybe it's time to practice, and play some music that really is enough to make a church-goer stop chatting and listen!  Naturally, I don't know your situation, so please forgive if this comment is not applicable. 
on April 12, 2014 10:30am
There are many reasons why this trend exists and, yes, one of them is postmodern theology about the meaning of "sanctuary".  However, this trend of noisy sanctuaries is not always a bad sign in terms of your church.  It can also represent a healthy, loving congregation that enjoys each others company and maintains a rich, joyful and open community.  So approaching this should be done with a sense of respect for the strengths of your community.  Here are the four aeas that will need to be addressed.  Unless you are in a small (under 50) church you will need to address all four to see any change:

1. Santuary - Sanctified - Sanctification: each word means "to set aside for a special purpose".  Either a space (Sanctuary) or us (sanctified).   Sanctification is part of God's grace as we are transformed in character.  We must teach our choir, pastors, staff, leaders and worshippers that the sanctuary is a sanctified space set aside for the purpose of mindful awareness of God's presense in a communal setting.  Mindfulness while in community is the key. 
2. Choir- the choir is the model for worship.  The choir needs to be trained and firmly reminded of the purpose, vision and responsibility of their task.  The choir is usually made up of highly involved discipled members who are active in church leadership.  Gentle reminders usually does the trick.  Use the rehearsal as a model for how worship can be.  I tell the choir they are modeling the kingdom of God for the congregation.
3. Greeters, Hosts and Welcome Leaders: this is your first line for setting the tone in worship.  A well organized and trained team can set the tone as people enter and move into the sanctuary.  You cannot accomplish a quiet worship start without this teams support and understanding.
4. Pastoral Team: The leadership team has to be wllling to support this by teaching, educating and training.  You cannot do this on your own.
Try another tact:  If the above are not possible and the community needs / wants to use the few minutes before worship starts as social time, then rethink your use of music then.  Speak with your leadership and create a hard start to worship that brings everyone to silence and prayer.  Ring a bell, say a prayer, sing a hymn etc- then begin the prelude when things are silent.  Or abandon your prelude altogether.
Do not play/perform music when people are talking, socializing, moving or not focused.  Doing so teaches that music is background noise that fills in the awkward silences.  The awkward silences are very important as it is there that true mindfullness is practiced. 
Andrew Brown
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