Over the years, I have struggled with what happens during the prelude.
In a perfect order of worship, with perfect people, in a perfect church, in a perfect world, the prelude time would be quiet, marked only by the whispers of private prayer as people prepare for worship. I have served churches in which this was the case. Whether or not everyone was praying, I don’t know; but there was a hush during the prelude.
I have served churches that the social networking activity during the prelude was like Times Square on New Years Eve as the ball drops. On one occasion, I could barely hear the prelude. In my naïveté, assuming that everyone had the same biblical understanding and demeanor about worship, I would approach the Worship Committee or Church Council for help. To my surprise, what seemed like a pretty straight forward issue, inevitably exploded into controversy.
To compound things, the moment of the worship service called “The greeting”; “Passing the Peace”; or “Ritual of Friendship”; usually was the quick descent into controlled chaos, sometimes adding anywhere from 5-10 minutes to the service.
Let me say before I go any further, I did not ever find a perfect solution to either of these.
In one conversation, a friend turned to me and said, “The way I see it, we are just loving one another.” I have pondered that insight for years. Another insight was that due to the busy schedules of families, Sunday morning was really the only time they could meet, greet, and check up on one another. It was a community builder. You can’t argue with that.
So what have I found effective? Based on the simple principle that you cannot seriously and effectively legislate silence during the prelude or set firm, realistic boundaries on community building. You have to find other ways to get to where you are going.
- Through conversation, I tried to discover what the conversation and noisy social networking meant for the worshippers. Some were bothered by it as they needed some peace and quiet before worship. Others loved it.
- Rather than trying to control human nature and tradition, I interjected some new things in worship to help keep focused. Working through the Worship Committee and not approaching it as a problem to be fixed, but an opportunity to help people grow in their faith, we gradually began the following.
- I started the worship service on time with a loud, “The Lord be with you!!”, or “Good morning!!” Some Sundays I had to say it twice. I didn’t make a big production about it. After a couple of weeks, the congregation figured out what I was doing and went along.
- I would read a verse of scripture dealing with worship, silence before God, coming to God’s house and the like.
- I would invite the people to join me in prayerful silence before God, allowing the music of the prelude to enhance the meditative time. Ushers would not seat people during this time.
- I would then say a prayer, call to worship, announce a hymn or some other opening, which could include the choir singing something. What I wish I had done, and will do again if I ever have the opportunity, is to kneel in prayer immediately after my invitation.
- I sprinkled Bible Studies and sermons on worship throughout the year as well as newsletter articles.
The greeting time was another matter. The closest I came to setting some boundaries was to announce it as a time to greet each other in Christ, and not to share life stories. That didn’t fly well. So I went with the flow. I consistently observed people greeting visitors and one another. I waded into the crowd myself. At the proper, I would stand in the sent of the altar area, just waiting. It worked. It was a much better alternative that entering the church, sitting through the service, and leaving without acknowledging anyone’s presence. When the issue came up in Council about the length of the service, someone would suggest cutting the greeting time. That would end the discussion for several months.
There is a tension between community building and reverencing the sacredness of God’s space and time. I never resolved it-and maybe I never will. Maybe it is not something to be resolved.
Please share your thoughts by commenting.