Chiming In: A Call to Worship

The members of my congregation like to chat when coming into the sanctuary before the service. Sometimes it has been difficult to call the congregation to worship because the conversations tend to taper off slowly. This has spurred a little debate between whether people should talk and socialize at the beginning of a service, or enter into the sanctuary for quiet meditation. Personally, I believe that both are important.

bell

1. We should socialize at the beginning of the service. The congregation represents the body of Christ at work in the world. The service begins with the gathering of the body of Christ, and it is a joyful reunion. During our week, we have all been in service in different ways, and have experienced different things. It is important to be able to share our experiences with each other.  I do believe, however, that our socialization easily gets carried away from the purpose of worship and so it cannot stand alone.

2. Quiet meditation is also an important part of our worship, but it is very different than conversation. Where social conversation encourages interaction of the gathered body, meditation focuses on an individual encounter with God. There is still a corporate element, though, as there is definitely something special about meditation with the gathered body around us. In a world that seems to limit and impede our quiet time, it is important for the church to help facilitate these quiet encounters with God.

With these things in mind, I redesigned the opening of our worship service in such a way that would encourage conversation as the body gathers, and then call the congregation into the other facets of the worship service. In order to do this, I pulled out a tool that has been used for centuries: bells. The Christian church, including (and perhaps especially) American Methodism, has a great tradition of ringing bells to call people to worship. The chimes still have an incredible effect today. When the chimes sound, people end their conversations, and look to the pulpit for direction.

So now when we gather in the sanctuary, we talk to each other. I encourage this gathering time by walking around and shaking as many hands as possible before the service. When it is time to call the congregation into a more quiet and reflective mode of worship, our pianist sounds the chimes.  Then I may easily invite people into the order of worship, which may include a time of prayer and meditation. We have sounded the chimes for several weeks now, and the chimes have received more compliments than any other change that I have made. It has been an easy change to bring order to our worship.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Doug

    Rev. Dan,

    I enjoyed reading this article. Many older Methodist have forgotten that it was once a fairly widespread practice to kneel and say a short prayer upon entering one’s pew before the start of the service. In the congregation of my childhood this custom began to fade in the early 1950’s after our new church was built. Every pew in the old building was equipped with red kneeling pillows and after the new church was built the pillows from the old building were reused. The new building however had a greater seating capacity and additional pillows were never provided. Almost instantly people began to stop praying before the service. About the mid 1960’s the remaining pillows were removed and eventually only a few die hards kep’t this custom. Today, no one prays before the service and the general enivornment before the start of the service is much different.

    The chime is still used in my church and it is a very useful way of getting people to stop talking although in the 1940’s this was not a problem because the custom was to pray before the service.

    Doug

    • http://www.churchandtea.com Dan

      Thank you, Doug! You have added a touch of recent history for me. I know that Catholics still genuflect upon entering their pew and also use kneelers in the service. I have not been to a Methodist church that has continued these practices. I did not know that was a part of our recent past. I am not surprised, however, considering the deep roots Methodism has in the Church of England and the Catholic church. Thank you for sharing!

      • Doug

        Rev. Dan,

        I’m not surprised by your response. Few people seem to remember this custom. I have an old Methodist hymnal that states “Let the people kneel or bow in silent prayer upon entering the Sanctuary”, and in another section it states, “Let all our services begin exactly at the time appointed, and let all our people kneel in silent prayer on entering the sanctuary.” Furthermore at different parts of the service the hymnal states “The people seated and bowed, or kneeling.” I’ve also got some old Sunday bulletin’s that state the same thing. Also in my area some Methodist churches, although I don’t remember this in my own church, had signs in the narthex warning worshippers to be quiet because the congregation was suppose to kneel in silent prayer before the service.

        Doug