Applause in church, part deux

applause in church2

I thought you might like an applause update. My blogpost last week on “applause in church” generated 125 views in the first hour. That’s strong interest.

Yesterday morning in worship, which was mostly given over to Christmas music with our Cathedral Choir and the Symphony of the Americas, I made an announcement at the beginning, asking worshippers to hold their applause until after Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” at the very end.  I even said that this was the request of the choir and orchestra, which it was.

You might think that in my position I carry a great deal of authority with my congregation. Well, apparently I don’t.

To be fair, the congregation at the first service, which tends to be a bit smaller, did not clap their hands until the very end, although I could almost feel the desire to do so long before then. One of the choral pieces was so good, so moving, in fact, that it just didn’t seem right to sit in silence. But we did.

And I thought, “Okay, that’s some progress.”

By the later service, however, when we had a nearly-full church, there was only a minimal attempt to hold off on the applause. By the end of the first choir anthem, the congregation was very nearly on its feet with clapping. I half expected shouts of “bravo!”

Since the service was structured, more or less, as a service of lessons and carols, I went to the lectern after the first outbreak of applause to read scripture, and the congregation smiled back at me as if to say, “Sorry, but we couldn’t help it.”

And that’s okay. I get it. But I intend to carry on my little crusade to encourage mindfulness in worship. I would count it a big victory if the people in my church enjoyed quiet reverence in the presence of the holy every bit as much as loud and noisy responses to most everything that happens on Sunday morning.

Quiet can be good too.

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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11 Responses to Applause in church, part deux

  1. Laurie Fuller December 17, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

    Yes I was at the 8:30 worship. AND yes all around me we wanted to applaud but you said to wait till the last song. I am glad we were mindful of what you said and it made it even better to applaud after the last song. I was very moved by the service yesterday and think there is a time and place for clapping.

    • Kirk Colwell December 17, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

      Doug, I vote for the quiet reverence never having experienced applause in a
      Presbyterian church until joining First Pres. But I also experienced applause between the movements of a symphony only in South Florida.

  2. Georgia Hamilton December 17, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    Yes, Doug–I agree, quiet can be good. We live in such a noisy world that I think many of us are simply uncomfortable with “quiet!” And, of course, these days we are constantly telling our kids–“Great Job!” “Awesome!” “Fantastic!” and on and on. In reality, they probably aren’t that good but we’ve been told to build up their self-esteem, experiencing failure will scar them for life! I think this carries over to any kind of “performance” when we want the performers to feel good about themselves.

    Keep up your crusade!


  3. Vicki Powell Long December 17, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

    Doug, all those around me at 8:30 service were hard pressed NOT to applaud for the wonderful music delivered in honor of our Lord by our awesome choir and the fabulous orchestra. I, too, enjoyed the quiet reverence though – gave time to take it all in. Merry Christmas!

  4. CG December 17, 2012 at 5:39 pm #

    While reading this the thought of “joyful noise” was dominating my mind, but it is important to filter noise from genuine expression of joy as a result of becoming closer to God.

    I think that when applause happens in worship it is not only a reflection of the joy that the art the presenter has brought us, but that God gave us the ability to make and appreciate something beautiful. I for one am in favor of applause during worship to an extent.

  5. mike December 18, 2012 at 12:53 am #

    Quiet can be good, reverence is good. And, in my solitary moments with my faith, that’s how I approach things – quietly, with reverence. But in the pew, surrounded by a congregation who, I know, feels like I do after a meaningful/heartfelt/uplifting gift of song or testimony…it’s tough to sit on one’s hands. I usually hesitate…and then join in the applause. It makes me feel good and it’s a way of saying, out loud, thanks for that – it was important to me.

    Worth a look…

  6. Don Wagner December 18, 2012 at 9:28 am #

    Doug, I could see the frustration in your face when you approached the podium at the 11:00 service; however, I concluded that folks have a difficult time following instructions when the Spirit moves them to express their appreciation for that which brings them great joy. Stay with your campaign.

    • Doug December 18, 2012 at 10:22 am #

      Wow, Don, I’m not sure frustration was what I felt. Sorry if that’s what was communicated! Surprised, maybe? Puzzled? We heard some beautiful music on Sunday morning, and in hindsight I know that our people did what comes naturally to them.!

  7. Pam Stephany December 19, 2012 at 5:49 am #

    When I lived in Boston, I attended the Episcopal Church near my home. The Boston Symphony played most Sundays, and if you went a few minutes early, you could enjoy the morning warm-up… Symphony Hall tickets needed. One morning featured Albinoni and the grandeur was stunning. The greatest acknowledgement was the drop dead silence, an occasional gasp even sniffle at the end of one piece. The priest even noted that the angels had stopped their work to listen to the beauty. Silence can be breath-taking. I was there.

    • Laura Foster December 22, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

      Yes, Pam – I know just what you are talking about. The silence can be breath-taking. We need to meditate more and applaud less. The choir and the musicians know that they are inspired and inspiring. They like the quiet reverence very much, thank you.

  8. Clark Ellis December 21, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    Stay with your campaign. But what about coming into church?
    I have to come real early so that I can pray with out getting interrupted with all the noise before church starts.