Sep 102017
 September 10, 2017

Applause in a Worship Service?

Posted by Rev Roger

Posted on September 10, 2017

This was part of my opening remarks at our Homecoming Service today. We had the traditional mingling of the waters in-gathering ritual for all ages.
Good morning! Welcome to a new church year. Whether you’ve been here for 70 years or just walked in 7 minutes ago, welcome home. Wherever you are on your journey, wherever you came from, whatever your immigration status or native language or faith, you are welcome here.
My name is Roger Jones and I am grateful to be starting my 10th year of ministry with UUSS. I’m also grateful and proud to be sharing the ministry with a colleague who is starting her 5th year with UUSS, Rev. Lucy Bunch.
We both appreciate our talented staff and lay leaders, and we appreciate all of you who make UUSS what it is by your presence and participation.

I’d like to speak to you about the risk of over-participation, and what I mean is too much applause in worship services.

Of course, the spirit moves differently in different people. We would never want to repress any individual’s authentic and spontaneous response to an aspect of the worship service. In fact, occasionally we might ask you to recognize a person or an event by applause.

However, as a large group of people together in worship, we can fall into an automatic applause, and then it builds and builds and builds — until it seems expected all the time. Then it’s not spontaneous.

So as we come together in our services, I would invite you, more often, to let your experience reverberate in the stillness. Feel it in your heart. Sometimes doing this makes it easier for others to receive the words or music that have just been offered if there is a spacious stillness.

Of course, sometimes the spirit will move a person to whisper, sigh, laugh, raise your hands, clap, shout or make another spontaneous response to part of a service, and we can strive to make space for that in our hearts as as well.

Let’s try experimenting with our awareness as we go through the weeks and months ahead.

But first, here is today’s opportunity to get all of our applause energy out in the open early in the service. It’s our monthly birthday recognition, which we do at each monthly inter-generational service. If you have a birthday during the month of September, please rise or raise your hand, so we can recognize you, and remain standing for our special UUSS birthday song.

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  9 Responses to “Applause in a Worship Service?”

  1. Thank you, Roger. I appreciate the warm feeling of shared emotions in the silence that follows a heartfelt statement or piece of music.

  2. Hello Roger,
    I would have to disagree with the above sentiments. There is a very moving article in the Fall 2017 issue of UU World on this very topic.
    I would recommend reading the full article, but here is an excerpt that stands out to me personally as a fellow Black UU.

    “The intellectualism in Unitarian Universalism comes with a culture of stillness. We are expected to sit quietly in our seats, listen intently with no emotion on our faces, no movement in our bodies. We are supposed to wait until after the service to express ourselves. I grew up in a culture of engagement. We had permission to respond to the service, to say “Amen” when we were moved by the words or music, to clap our hands and smile and nod our heads whenever the spirit moved us. We lived the hymn “When the Spirit Says Do” every time we gathered for worship. I have had to learn to restrain myself in UU circles, which distances me from the worship. Sometimes our worship feels more like a lecture to me.”
    – Othering and belonging, Darrick Jackson

  3. i’m with joe on this. great article by the way. myself, as a *younger* person i’ve always felt awkward about the no applause thing.

    and the cat’s out of the bag now. we applause. quite often. but now it’s akward (sometimes) because of the hesitancy and i’ve had people who i’ve introduced to the church tell me they do notice this as a newcomer.

    i appreciate the idea of stillness and silence in the service but i’m doing that DURING the song, performance, story, etc. after i want to clap or turn to sara and say “that was great” while clapping.

    i don’t know if i buy the argument that we lose something because it’s automatic. if i wanted to practice more gratitude in my life i wouldn’t look at the fact that i say “thank you” fairly automatically (probably dozens of times a day) and decide to stop saying it except when *really* sincere. if i did that i’d probably feel awkward and be wondering when and when not to say it. that’s sort of where we are with clapping. INSTEAD i should probably try to be more aware as i say thank you throughout the day and say it with more sincerity and meaning every time.

    my two cents

    • I have to agree with Joseph and Dirk. I like to share by appreciation for something with applause. It felt awkward after the choir sang to not clap for them. I also think the delivery of the “no applause during service” message was a little rough. I almost felt like I was being lectured, like I was wrong for doing so in the first place. Being raised in the Catholic church there was no applause and the service was stagnant. I like that we can express our joy and appreciation via applause. I get that taking breaks for applause may cause the service to run a little longer, but I would prefer that than feeling like a robot.

  4. Thank you! This is an interesting discussion. Can we find some compromises, like agreeing to no applause during Joys & Sorrows?

    • So if someone shares a momentous joy, such as beating cancer, that doesn’t warrant a round of applause and cheering, maybe even a standing ovation? In my opinion, Joys and Sorrows are a pivotal part of services for us to express our support and encouragement… especially in the moment, not after.

    • i do think we need some kind of clarification and compromise. i see sarah’s point but i think it’s a very fair compromise to have some things like joys and sorrows where we say this is a reflective non applause thing. i wouldn’t even mind if certain whole services were designated that way or certain performances we were asked to reflect afterwards and not applause. i think it’s the pick and choose thing that creates the awkwardness. so yes, compromise and clarification is imo what we need

  5. Keith and I attended UU in Ashland for their water ceremony. We walked in late (they have on street in residential area parking) to the choir singing. The congregation expressed their appreciation with the raised hands/wiggling fingers generally seen used by deaf communities. Maybe that is a compromise during Joys and Sorrows. Otherwise. I like spontaneity.

  6. Just one more opinion. Roger, i really appreciated your statement and request. The other comments also seem additive; i think you did express, yes, respond if strong surge of positive emotion, as you desire. But, applause seems to have become more routine, or expected, like an approval of competency or contribution. Then, one feels compelled to clap or others will think you are disapproving, so one claps. Do we want contributors to feel judged by an applause meter? Service isnt an entertainment show, is it? Well, sometimes it is, then maybe applause is more welcome, esp w a visiting musician or a strong emotional offering. But for me, if i want to really focus on what was said or done, then applause distracts from that. I do want to contemplate and focus my mind during thoughtful times in a service; that is what i am there for. But yes, when a strong emotion is inspired, a ‘Yeh!’, for individual expression, in whatever cultural manner, can be appreciated . Thanks for opportunity to add my 2 cents.

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