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10 minute rule: if the church is on fire

10 minute rule: if the church is on fire

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

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.

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.

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.

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?

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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