Sunday, January 27, 2013

Stage Directions Again

I have complained more than once about the stage directions to which worshipers at St. Paul’s are subjected  at every service. Lou tells us that we should stand and sing a particular hymn or continue reading at the bottom of a page to which everyone’s prayer book is already turned.

These instructions are intended to be helpful and “welcoming.” They are, in fact, annoying, insulting, and distracting. I don’t intend to give a complete defense of this view here, but only to point out how inconsistent the rector’s practice is.

We invariably announce the numbers of the hymns we are about to sing, even though those numbers are shown in proper sequence in the bulletin. Even someone from a different denomination (or no denomination at all) can probably figure out where to find, say, “Processional Hymn 255,” and at what point in the service it is to be sung. If he or she cannot, saying “we will now sing Hymn number 255” is unlikely to help.

What are never announced are the Gloria, the Sanctus, the Memorial Acclamation, and the Great Amen. The first two are in the beginning of the hymnal. An Episcopalian—one coming from a church that actually uses the prayer book rather than PowerPoint slides or a bulletin containing the complete service, anyway—would have no trouble finding them, but a visitor might. (A conscientious visitor would read the explanation under “Worship Materials” in the bulletin and would indeed find these pieces of service music.) The Memorial Acclamation and Great Amen are in the bulletin, of course, but this service music is unique to St. Paul’s and might trip up even an Episcopalian visitor.

This is not an argument for announcing more music, but for announcing none of it. Such announcements interrupt the continuity of the service to no good purpose. Moreover, we announce what needs no announcing and say nothing of the music most likely to trip up a visitor. How sensible is that?

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