January 22, 2019
In my first “sabbatical follow-up” blog, I got us to the building with observations from the four denominations/eight congregations I visited. Let’s go inside the sanctuary now.
1 Special needs held some interesting challenges. I have arthritis so keep an eye out for such things. One church had a sanctuary entrance designated from the outside for handicapped folk. When I entered, it was indeed on the level of the sanctuary but the door led to the front of the sanctuary so all eyes were on me (and my weather hampered gait) as I found a seat. I asked for the restroom, which was up a flight of stairs.
One congregation offered hearing aids and large print bulletins but the announcement saying so was at the end of the bulletin. Guess when I saw it?
All leaders were amplified at each house of worship I attended. One had almost all spoken texts also printed in the large bulletin (copyrights lacked at almost all locations). I could see the microphones helpful for the hearing challenged, but it turned out necessary for most worshipers because the sanctuary was so live that many words were completely lost otherwise.
2 Projections get good and bad reviews, but preparation and execution is critical no matter what. On Christmas Eve, “Silent Night” had an extra verse added to the usual three. The screen change was too slow and we missed the first 3 or 4 words of that verse. Another hymn projection had a slightly different text than the hymnal, which I was using. I was embarrassed and felt “in the wrong”. When singing with the projection, people used the screen texts and rarely opened hymnals or attempted to sing harmony, even on the old carols.
One projector stayed on during the sermon though not used except for an image of an Advent wreath (not their wreath so it felt impersonal to me). Unfortunately, it kept a flickering motion going which I found distracting.
Is this a pro or con: Projections prior to worship (before and during prelude, even on Christmas Eve) advertised events and groups of the congregation?
3 The pew or chairs are important. I was most comfortable in a congregation with nicely cushioned chairs. Unfortunately, they didn’t have enough hymnals and I wasn’t sure if I should pull one from the chair two over or if it was considered that chair’s book. Do you have ushers or weekday people who clear the racks of child-scribbled visitor cards and old bulletins? I applaud all eight of “my” congregations for very tidy pew racks and seats, though my hymnal sported several post-its someone else had left before.
4 Hymn boards can be handy but I was thwarted by not checking the bulletin since the board didn’t list “sing stanzas 1, 3, and 5” or “stanza 2 choir only”.
5 Pew racks were always interesting. Beware of bibles that look EXACTLY like the hymnals (same color/size)! I showed my newbie-ness by picking up the bible to look for the first hymn. Luckily a quick nervous glance to my left and right assured me that no one spotted my faux pas…
An olfactory “ugly” awaited me at an Episcopal congregation. I couldn’t identify an old, musty smell in the sanctuary until I realized it was the hymnals. The Hymnal 1982 is still being used by most Episcopal churches; some pages had dirty edges because of 30 years of use. In addition, their second worship book, The Book of Common Prayer, had pages whose glue had broken down due to age and the binding was coming loose. Didn’t feel much like a “happenin’” kind of worship community!
Visitor cards and tablets were often placed at the end of the pew and out of reach if I was a few places in. Introverts don’t want to draw attention to our status by getting up to fetch one when announced that visitors should sign the pad. Neither did I want to stand when asked to do so as everyone else sat or sit with everyone else towering over me scoping for visitors.
One sanctuary had sturdy, colorful, 3-fold visitor brochures, which I didn’t identify at first since they called them visitor cards. When I checked one out later, it had been scored so I could tear off a part for the offering plate with my contact information and answers about my interests; however, had I done that, I would have lost the other side (2/3 of the brochure) which gave the church’s contact info, history, and notable ministry emphases.
6 Not everyone would be bothered by this, but one congregation’s paraments were very old. They didn’t appear especially worn, but definitely were a style and material that portrayed a sense of age perhaps off-putting, particularly to younger people.
Next time: The Bulletin!
Deacon Jeanette Burgess serves as the ELCA Southeastern Synod’s Administrative Liaison for Leadership, as well as Director of Music, St. John’s, Atlanta, GA.