Silence Before Worship
American Christians who travel to Greece or Turkey often express shock at the outward shabbiness of Orthodox churches. Where our landscape is filled with beautiful stone Gothic, or Georgian, or Italian Revival churches, or even modern gems like our own sanctuary, churches in Greece and Turkey most often look like stone heaps. Their churches just do not impress, from the outside. But once you cross the threshold into an Orthodox church, that’s when first impressions begin to change. The first thing one notices is the dimness. The eyes need time to adjust. Once the pupils have dilated, then the beauty begins to fill the eyes. The gold and all of the iridescent colors of the mosaics overwhelm. First time visitors report that the experience of entering an Orthodox church feels like moving from earth into heaven itself. And that is the intention of the design.
When we cross the threshold into our sanctuary, we do well to recognize this kind of dramatic transition, too. We are leaving the world with all of its noise, distraction, and fevered pace, to enter the quiet and peace of sacred space so that we might find ourselves calmed, centered and comforted. Yes, we feel joy in greeting friends we may not have seen all week. Yes, of course, there will be conversation as we share concerns and show one another compassion and care. Bringing all of this into the sanctuary before worship, however, distracts or impedes us from the important work to which we are called each Sunday morning: worship. Encountering God. When we cross the threshold into the sanctuary we are leaving the world and entering a holy space, a place set apart, where we behave differently. Reverence is a word that captures this difference, and one of its manifestations is silence.
Beginning this coming Sunday, the pastor and the worship committee will begin moving us toward a new way of beginning worship. We are blessed with lovely chimes in the choir loft. From this Sunday onward, we plan to announce the beginning of worship by chiming the hour. When you hear the chimes, hear them as the invitation to prepare for worship. Let conversations end, and turn heart and mind toward God. Pastor David will offer the greeting, overview of announcements and invitation to worship. Only then will the Prelude begin, followed by the Introit.
The worship committee is eager to do this partly because it makes good sense, but even more because we are hearing from members and friends that the noisy chatter at the beginning of worship, which extends through the organ prelude, is a hindrance to preparing for worship. Daily life for most of us overflows with noise, with so many voices beckoning for our attention. More than a few of us look forward to, and frankly need, the stillness and silence before worship to help us complete the transition from the cacophony of society to the peace of heaven. Thank you for journeying with us into this change.