10 minute rule: if the church is on fire

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From Episcopal Church Foundation Vital Practices Forum:

If the church is on fire, tell the rector.

Otherwise, in the final 10 minutes before a service starts, try to resist peppering your priest with questions or reports about some failure of performance – people or facilities (or both).


In those 10 minutes, your priest is trying to focus on leading worship. He or she is vesting, double-checking the procession, mentally reviewing a sermon, and greeting people. The priest is praying with the choir, conferring with the organist, touching base with the Altar Guild, and possibly ducking into the restroom.

….

I’m not saying your priest should be inaccessible before worship. But I am suggesting that we all step back and ask ourselves whether our comments can wait until coffee hour. I doubt we would worry a surgeon with questions about the boiler system shortly before the first cut. I hope we would give a few minutes of reflection for a business leader preparing to address stockholders.

We should be cognizant of the responsibility and privilege that comes with leading worship and guiding people to renew and strengthen their spiritual lives through the liturgy….

I propose we take a page from the mother’s handbook, which indicates a waiting period after eating before the children can return to the pool.

What do you think?

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clare fischer-davies
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clare fischer-davies

I agree that this varies by congregational cultures; it happens much more in my present parish than in past congregations, and in general it's much harder to establish holy time and space here. Partly that's building design, partly it's congregational personality, but it is a major challenge. Like Lois, I tell people I won't remember and ask them please to write me a note or email or call the church right then on their cell and leave me a message. It is, of course, almost always the same half dozen people who do this regularly.

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Lee Alison
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Lee Alison

I have always tried to build a fence around the wardens (especially junior warden) pre-liturgy after watching a junior warden break into tears when someone told him just before the service that a light bulb had gone out in the bathroom. He, too, had come to church to pray (he was working 100 hrs/week) and the intrusion of something like that nearly pushed him over the edge.

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Lois Keen
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Lois Keen

I like Dr. Shy's suggestion about suggestions for preparation in the bulletin. Our "Please practice silence ten minutes before the service" isn't working, since the ushers are hospitable and chat up people in the narthex and our architecture doesn't permit for anything else, I'm afraid. I must also remember to prepare our ushers and choir better.

The truth about me - and I am a priest - is that anything people try to pass on to me on a Sunday I forget the second I'm told. I tell people this right up front: "I appreciate you telling me this. Please drop me a note or phone message because, I'm sorry, my experience is that I will not remember this." What I do remember is the presence of people, the handshake at the door, the smiles, the people themselves.

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Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.
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Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.

I am not a priest, of course, and it has been along time since I was an organist for liturgies on a regular basis. I believe, however, that the tendency to "bother" the priest or other leaders may have a deeper root, namely that the parishioners feel that they themselves do not need to "prepare" for liturgy. I know that some churches like to be "friendly" or "chatty" before liturgy and afterwards, and socializing is a good thing. There is, however, a need for each congregant to do their own pre-liturgy preparation, as well as their own post-liturgy conclusion. I try to make my wishes known to be "left alone" before and after by my position and attitude. Kneeling, using my prayer rope or beads before liturgy and also sitting during the postlude and reading from my prayerbook or hymnal (I like reading the hymn texts of the hymns "Strengthen for service" and "Completed, Lord, the holy mysteries" as part of my post-liturgy personal devotions.

If parishioners are being "chatty" perhaps there needs to be work to cultivate their preparation and participation in the liturgy. Often, I find that clergy "set the tone" for things. If you do a hearty "GOOD MORNING" intro to the liturgy, or open with a "joke," you cannot expect the congregation to be serious about their own preparation. How about something in the bulletin such as some "pre-liturgy" prayer suggestions and a note about how to prepare for liturgy?

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Bob McCloskey
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Bob McCloskey

Well put James Mackay and I'm with you Anne. In two former parishes I had the luxury of detached chapels where I could gather the sanctuary party for preparatory time and devotions. It makes such a huge difference. If physical space is unavailable then I would create some quiet zone space and let it be known.

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James Mackay
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James Mackay

As a parish organist, in my mind, the following is also true: "[I]n the [first] 10 minutes [after] a service [ends], try to resist peppering your priest with questions or reports about some failure of performance – people or facilities (or both)." Why?! Several things. One is physiological: My adrenaline is still running, i.e., I'm physically coming down from being on alert or on point (to borrow from our canine friends). Too, those two cups of coffee between liturgies may now have reached critical mass. At any rate, I am more likely to give a snippy response to some complaint in the first few moments after a liturgy. The other is that I as a spiritual being am in a vulnerable and tender spot, as I have been open, hopefully, to the work of the Holy Spirit. While members of the assembly have tarried and prayed during the concluding voluntary, I, too, need to conclude my worship.

I agree that this needs to be communicated better to the congregation. It is, however, a discipline that needs to be taught and lived among those who are leading worship (e.g., choir, presiding minister, assisting ministers, servers).

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Robert P Morrison
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Robert P Morrison

I shan't name the congregation, but I have actually sen a congregant go up to the organist, during the prelude, and tap the organist on the shoulder and begin a conversation, even putting an arm on the shoulder. I feel I need a little quiet and breathing space before beginning, if only to do a last minute check of my own preparations.

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Louise Fortuna
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Louise Fortuna

What do I think?

I'll speak first for myself. I am a parishioner at the church I work at. Sunday is not usually a work day for me. When I am preparing for worship, worshiping, or participating in fellowship after worship, I try to avoid work. When asked a work-related question, my answer is often "Would you please put a note in my box? That way, I won't forget and I can look into that Monday morning." I find that when I politely address the fact that I am not in work-mode and request that they write it down or contact me on Monday, I've never had anyone object.

This isn't a hard and fast rule. There are times that it makes sense for me to help people deal with an immediate need on a Sunday.

Also, I try to look at it from the parishioners' point of view. Many of our parishioners are not at church during my work week. So when they see me on Sunday, they remember that thing they were going to call me about. My boundary doesn't need to be harsh and shut them down.

Therefore, personally, I try to leave all work-related discussions for the work-week when it comes to our clergy.

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Richard E. Helmer
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Richard E. Helmer

Healthy boundaries take two. Whatever happened to the clergy person learning to simply say, "I'm preparing to lead worship right now. Can we talk about this afterwards?"

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Mary Caulfield
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Mary Caulfield

It's a perfectly reasonable request, but I think it has to cut both ways. As a lecturer, I know how important it is to get focused before I'm "on" in front of an auditorium full of people. But maybe the rector who is concerned about being bothered with trivia should see whether it's part of a larger parish dynamic. Do people tap the soloist on the shoulder to ask about his Vestry duties? Do church members bring interested adults to tour the Sunday school rooms when the teachers are trying to get ready to greet children? If lack of respect shows itself in one place, it's probably in other places as well.

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F.Harry Stowe
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Unfortunately, to the person from Porlock, their concern is the moral or existential equivalent of the church on fire -- if not of open schism.

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