Sunday, August 25, 2013

Quiet, please

I heard a fine sermon in church today, and good music. There were just a couple things I would quibble about, and I have come here, to my blog, to quibble.

The first quibble is that at one point, after asking us to think about our answer to a certain question, the pastor instructed us to turn to the people near us and ask them what their answer had been. I immediately wished I had stayed out in the narthex to listen to the sermon instead of coming into the sanctuary and sitting in a pew. I was a goodly space away from a couple with whom I am wholly unacquainted. I did not turn my head but looked out of the corner of my eye at the male half, who was nearer to me. They evidently shared my feelings because they not only didn't turn to me, they didn't even turn to each other. I felt a sense of relief that I was among cold, unresponsive Dutch people like myself. I jest, but being forced into conversation with people makes me extremely uncomfortable. It's distressing.

I was reminded of the following passage from the book Introverts in the Church:

The first three-quarters of the sanctuary were occupied by people who had attended the church for years, stretching back to their days in Sunday school. Over the years the church settings had changed—from classroom to youth group room to traditional worship service to contemporary worship service and now the Sunday night postmodern worship gathering—but the seating arrangement had remained the same. They sat in their well-established groups of friends, as comfortable as they were in their own homes with their own families. In the last quarter of the room were a few rows of solitary stragglers, spaced out by an empty seat or two in between. These people were visitors or, in some cases, regulars who had not been attending since birth. They were drawn to worshiping God in a postmodern language that they understood, but they were wary of the rigid social boundaries. At the time of Communion, the pastor said there would be an experimental new format for taking the sacrament. He explained that the Lord’s Supper is not an individual act but a corporate meal in which we celebrate together the meaning of Jesus’ death. Therefore, instead of coming up to the front one at a time to partake of the elements, people would come up in groups and celebrate Communion together. He instructed them to choose their own groups, from the people situated around them, and to assemble at the table when they were formed. My friend Sarah, an introvert who attends frequently, sat in the second-to-last row. After hearing these directions, she stood up, in extreme social discomfort, and walked out of the sanctuary. Sarah is an ordained Presbyterian minister. [McHugh, Adam S. (2009-10-20). Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture (pp. 187-188). Intervarsity Press. Kindle Edition.]

The second quibble was something that happens most Sundays. It's a two-part quibble having to do with taking the offering. First, we sang during the offering and, second, the worship leader informed us that the offering would start at the back and as the offering bag passed us, we should stand up. That way, when the offering is finished, everyone is standing and we can move right into the parting blessing. Heaven forbid that there should be a pause in the proceedings.

This is akin to a quibble I have with our celebration of the Lord's Supper, which is that we almost always sing throughout (although, here, I do simply close my eyes and remain silent).

I would like no words, just music, during these elements of the worship service. I would like to sit quietly and contemplatively for at least those amounts of time. It seems like the worship planners believe that if there are no words for us to read, hear, or vocalize we will be bored; whereas, I feel that if there is never a pause in the flow of words, I never get a chance for anything to soak in. At the end of a worship service with non-stop verbalization, I am past saturation.

There are elements that can be added to worship services that feed introverted souls. Find a way to insert authentic silences into worship. I say “authentic” because a brief perfunctory pause can feel like an empty gesture. Incorporate silences that last for several minutes, explaining their significance so that people will not think it’s a mistake. One church I know allows a full two minutes of silence after every sermon. Simply inserting regular pauses in the content of worship services, instead of rushing from one component to the next, can also be fruitful. So much of our human relationships, even the very best parts, is unspoken, and our worship, in which we interact with a personal God, ought to reflect that. [McHugh, Adam S. (2009-10-20). Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture (p. 199). Intervarsity Press. Kindle Edition.]


Mavis Moon said...

I agree with your quibbles, Jan. I think it's good to give time for us to think our thoughts, soak in what we've heard, offer our own prayers and so on. I would not want to exchange information in the service like that, either. I've gotten over my discomfort with exchanging greetings, though.

Janette Kok said...

Thanks, Mave. I felt kind of guilty to quibble because everyone planning the worship is a good person and the pastor is such a good guy. But, oh well, I quibbled anyway. :-)