I know I am not alone among my fellow clerics in trying to find ways in which to instill an element of preparation before a service.
Over the past years the noise in the majority of our churches before a service begins has increased beyond all imagining, pretty much like our world in general. What was once hushed voices and silent whispers of greeting allowing people to prepare, are now loud full-blown conversations with people totally oblivious (I don’t
want to believe this is deliberate rudeness) to the person in front or beside them on their knees praying. I have tried a variety of things, some just don’t work, some only work for those who actually engage with them, and some cause offence – holding up your hand like a teacher in school (it was an All-Age worship service and it worked, however when certain adults found out what I had done they were not too pleased to say the least). I have leaflets in the pews on preparation before worship and offering prayers for use (but not everyone either uses them or uses them at the same time, so while useful they haven’t worked in instilling a reverent hush); I have tried exampling, coming out 5 mins before the service and kneeling at the communion rail for my own preparation (people were unaware what was going on as they were too busy chatting); I have tried some gentle hymn singing before the service starts (the chatting resumes as soon as the hymn singing stops, in fact some chatting continues during the hymn singing); together with organists I have tried ending the music leading up to a service beginning a couple of minutes before the service is due to start (people are quiet for a few seconds until they realise that nothing is actually now going to happen so they continue with their conversations); I have tried a communal prayer time immediately before the service (people really didn’t like that at all and it didn’t feel right); I have tried preaching about preparation before a service (it works for a couple of weeks at most); once I tried a shhh clip art (you know finger at lips) with ‘people at prayer’ underneath it, sign on the church door (someone took it down!). I have tried all these things, and probably more I have forgotten, in a variety of churches with minimal success. Sadly I have also noticed that increasingly people seem to think the time during the administration of communion apart from when they are actually kneeling at the altar rail is also another opportunity to have a conversation! In the past I have heard tales of piles drift up towards me as I administer our Lord’s body. I know this is a sensitive subject (not the piles, the noise), a hard one to find a solution to, and bizarrely one which we clerics often face opposition when dealing with, so I share with you my latest attempt which seems to be working so far.
At the beginning of the service, in fact before it has even properly began I stand in front of the congregation and say something along the lines of ‘Let us silently reflect as we prepare for worship on words from psalm #’ I then read the response to the psalm of the day and sit down in my own stall, wait until all noise has stopped and allow the silence to reign. At the end of the silence I ask the congregation to rise and begin the service by reading the sentence from the psalm again. So far not only has this worked but it was requested that the verse be put in the pew sheet so that people could better reflect with the words in front of them.
Anyone out there got any other suggestions?