Sunday, May 8, 2011

Putting Our Best Foot Forward?

Last Sunday, Bishop Price made the annual episcopal visit to St. Paul’s and, at the 10:30 service, presided over Confirmation. No doubt, St. Paul’s was trying to put its best foot forward. As usual, I attended the 10:30 service as a member of the choir.

Instead of the usual bulletin, worshipers were provided with a service booklet that, presumably, contained everything the congregation needed to know. I can only speculate on why we expended the labor and materials we did on a replacement for the standard bulletin. Were we trying to impress the bishop? Were we trying to be “welcoming” to non-Episcopalians who might be attending as guests of the confirmands? Unfortunately, producing a larger program offers more room for errors. Here are some things I noticed in the service bulletin:
  1. Names of some of the confirmands were omitted. That was a shame and surely a disappointment to relatives who were expecting a souvenir of the event.
  2. One significant musical item was left out. Doug Starr sang a solo at communion, but mention of it was omitted.
  3. Another musical glitch was the reproduction of two hymns that were begun on an odd numbered page and were continued on an even numbered page. It would have been better had worshipers used hymnals for these hymns, which would not have required page turns in the middle of a hymn.
  4. It being the first Sunday of the month, we celebrated birthdays and anniversaries with appropriate prayers. Why was the celebration not listed and the prayers not reproduced in the booklet? The rector had to tell us that the birthday prayer was on page 830—“in the back of the prayer book,” he added redundantly. As usual, the congregation was not requested to read the anniversary prayer, which is also in the prayer book (on page 431).
  5. I wonder if the bishop noticed the substitution of “God” for “him” at the beginning of the Great Thanksgiving. This is a variation often made in the name of “inclusive language,” but it is not strictly proper. It is one thing for an individual to make the substitution; it is quite another for the parish to do so officially.
  6. I didn’t spend much time looking for typographical errors, but I could not help noticing serious formatting errors in the weekly calendar. A minor criticism is that times should have been right justified. Where “10:30 AM” was under “9:30 AM,” for example, the “9” should have been preceded by a space, so that it appeared directly over the “0” in “10.” The real problem, however, was that, in 54 instances, the event name followed the time without an intervening space (for example, “9:30 AMYouth Forum Lounge”). In a single instance was there the required space. Well, perhaps the bishop didn’t notice.
The bishop no doubt did notice that we had a single acolyte. (A full complement of acolytes is seven.) Once again, in leading the choir down the side aisle, I had to look across the nave to try to stay even with the procession in the opposite aisle. I do not understand why we cannot turn out more acolytes, particularly on such an important Sunday. (See “Where Have All the Acolytes Gone?”)

In honor of Confirmation, we had confirmands reading the lessons. The good news is that the two readers seemed familiar with the readings and generally did not trip over the text. Both read too fast, however, and the second reader tended to drop his voice at the ends of sentences. These are common errors of novice readers, but, given that the readers had clearly worked on their presentations, it is unfortunate that no one helped them do just a bit better to really nail their assignments.

Another problem the bishop could not miss was the fact that the sound system kept acting up. While it is true that our sound system is somewhat outmoded, it could serve our day-to-day needs reasonably well if components were repaired or replaced when they misbehave. Rather than repair the cables used with the wireless microphones properly, for example, the cables have been taped together in a way that makes the proper connections only about 90% of the time. Yes, it would be nice to install a new sound system. In the meantime, it would be helpful to keep the one we’ve got in good repair, rather than using it as a fund-raising poster child. (We will be asked to replace our sound system in the upcoming capital campaign.)

Finally, I wonder what the bishop thought of the rector’s incessant stage directions (“We will now …”). I attend services at other Episcopal churches more often than most parishioners, and I almost never hear other priests giving directions to the congregation as Lou does. I’m sure the instructions are intended to be “helpful” and “welcoming,” but I know that I am not the only parishioner who simply finds them insulting to one’s intelligence. Why provide an order of service at all if the assumption is that no one knows how to read one? It is a great relief whenever I attend a service in which the flow of the liturgy is uninterrupted by unnecessary directions.

If the bishop were unfazed by the usual directions from the chancel, he must surely have been taken aback by an incident that occurred at the end of communion. Because people were still at the rail after all the planned communion music was sung, Doug added “Seek ye first” as an additional communion hymn. The choir (and perhaps others who know the hymn or know how to use the hymnal index) sang the first verse. Then, in the middle of the hymn, Lou shouted out over the singing that we were singing the second verse of Hymn 711! This may be acceptable behavior in the Holy Roller Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church in Dogpatch, Kentucky, but in a suburban Episcopal church it is simply uncouth and embarrassing.

So, did St. Paul’s put its best foot forward? I certainly hope not! We can do better. We used to do better. Perhaps we can again.


jmhjr4 said...

Is there actually a Dogpatch, KY
With Li'l Abner and Daisy Mae? Will have to put that on my bucket list.

Lionel Deimel said...

As far as I know, Dogpatch, Kentucky, exists only in the funny papers.