Making a Joyful Noise
First, thank you to Session for the Amazon gift cards for pastor appreciation! I have already bought a few books. It feels so good to know our love for one another and shared ministry is reciprocated. And the lovely mums on my front porch! Every time I walk down my stairs I see them twice—through the window and the reflection through the mirror Janet gave me. (And of course every time I drive or walk by my house.) It feels so good to be loved by church. Right back at you!
What else is on my mind? Hmm. In 2018, when I began serving as the interim minister at Westminster I reached out to several of our inactive members. I was surprised when a non-attending member explained to me that they stopped coming to worship because, several years ago, (1990's), there was a pastor who encouraged applauding in worship, and they did not think it was appropriate. We joked that worship, “isn’t like Branson”.
To clap or not to clap? This early conversation led me to do a bit of research in the Book of Order which says, “In worship, music is not to be for entertainment or artistic display.” (W-2.1004) This is noted in the context of music being described as a form of prayer by the congregation...” Recently, it has been noted that clapping is on the rise in our sanctuary, so I researched a bit more and found many articles written by Presbyterians: Rev. Ronald Preston Byars, pastor of Second Presbyterian Church, Lexington, Kentucky writes: “Applause, by itself, certainly doesn’t offend the ears of the Almighty. It may be quite: a miraculous recovery from illness, an impending wedding, making the budget! But the public assembly of the church for worship is significantly different from any other public assembly, and different rules apply. In worship, when a choir stands to sing, or a person stands to pray, they stand as representatives of the congregation. The 'audience' to whom they address their songs and prayers is God. If applause is appropriate, it is God who will applaud."
What do you think? I do like applauding for a long marriage or a big birthday--those things are not about "performance". Makes sense.
The article continues: There is a second objection to performance applause in church. And that is that once you begin, where do you stop? If you applaud once, do you applaud every time? If not, do you run the risk of offending those who expect it? If you applaud for a children's choir, how about for the chancel choir? The preacher? Pretty soon, the whole business becomes so perfunctory that it's as routine as the standing ovation Lexington concertgoers seem to feel obligated to offer anyone who does us the kindness of including us in their tour.” Hmm. Makes sense.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church agrees: "In American culture, applause is most often understood as acknowledgment or acclamation of a performance. Therefore, it is very closely linked to entertainment. Americans tend to applaud after all performances, regardless of quality...At best, such applause may simply be a courtesy. In a secular setting, applause may not be a weakness. When transferred to worship, however...."
Perhaps we have options? If a spirited anthem, sermon, or solo moves you to express gratitude, you might: say “Amen!”, “Thanks be to God!”, “And all God’s people said? Amen”, breathe in and out in a state of quiet reverence; give thanks to God in silent prayer, (my personal favorite); or simply emit a peaceful sigh? (https://www.pinnaclepres.org/blog/2016/10/18/make-a-joyful-noise-unto-the-lord-come-unto-his-presence-wit.html)
Something to think about! You be you. As for me, I will continue to clap when an announcement of good news is made and I will continue to refrain from clapping when a gift of music or word moves me spiritually. I will offer a silent prayer of thanksgiving, as I do each day, for you. For Westminster. Thanks be to God.
P.S. Thank you DeDe for being Westminster at Delaware's Halloween Party! You and Gwen were adorable (as were Steve and Warren)!