Monday, July 03, 2006
To clap or not to clap in church?
While I'm having some vacation time, it's an opportunity for me to visit other parishes. Last Sunday, I thought I'd go to Christ Church in Plano, long touted as the largest [formerly] Episcopal congregation in the country. I had been there several times for different functions over the years, but this was my first time to attend worship there on a Sunday morning.
It is an evangelical "low church" congregation, so I knew there would be some things not to my liking (stacking books on top of the tabernacle was the only thing I found offensive). From the start, I was confronted by that awkward question: "To clap, or not to clap?"
As it was the Sunday before Independence Day (which is a major feast on our calendar), patriotic music was played. The prelude was a rousing performance of "the Stars and Stripes Forever" on the piano. And yet it seemed so odd that many in the congregation burst into a standing ovation at the end. I did not clap, and stayed seated.
In place of the Gloria, a soprano sang the National Anthem (but only the unanswered question of the first stanza). Now this is not exactly the "hymn of praise" the Prayer Book may have had in mind as a fitting substitute for that ancient hymn to the Trinity, but hey, it's a special occasion. I understood. It did, however feel very odd that everyone around me was saluting the American flag during this "hymn of praise" and burst into applause at the end. My hands stayed by my side.
The sequence hymn was another excellent solo by Handel--"Let the Bright Seraph." At the end of that solo? More clapping. And at the end of that standing ovation? "Please remain standing for the gospel reading." I did clap once later on, however, at a line in the sermon that was particularly moving. So what's the difference?
It felt natural to clap in the sermon to let the speaker know I am encouraged by what he said. It was essentially to communicate something like, "Amen! Preach it, brother." However, it felt very awkward to applaud at the end of a musical offering (and the Rector did refer to it as an "offering"). After all, we don't clap at the end of a well-prayed prayer or when we see someone put a check in the offering plate, so why would we applause at the end of an offering in song--a "prayer prayed twice"? I understand the desire to show warmth and enthusiasm in parish worship, but to me, clapping makes it all seem like just entertainment. Any thoughts?