I wrote this for the newsletter of the church I serve as Music Director for. Feel free to steal it. Giving credit, hopefully!
I used to love to go to the movies. Even bad ones. There was something magical about a movie that removed me from my everyday routine and placed me in a magical world. Even though I was aware of sitting in a theatre staring at a screen, the magic of Hollywood was enough to allow me to forget about reality and immerse myself in another world. Movies easily convince the audience to believe in the unbelivable. Dramatic theorists call this the “willing suspension of disbelief.” While being aware that the actions taking place on the screen are at the least improbable, I let it slide for the time being in order to remain in the other-world of the movie. That’s the magic of it.
Church is magical as well. When in church, we remove ourselves from everyday life and place ourselves in a sacred space AND time. Worship service in itself is something out of the ordinary. Whether it takes place in a church or on the beach, the time set aside for worship is magical. Christianity also has its own version of the willing suspension of disbelief. Tell any passerby on the street that you are going to die and rise up again in three days and they will likely keep on walking. This feeling, however, when applied to Christianity, would be more accurately titled a “willing affirmation of faith.” It isn’t a belief in the unbelievable as much as it is a faith in the unprovable. This magical feeling of being in the presence of God and communing with fellow congregants is an important function of the church service.
The question arises, “Why did you USED to love going to the movies?” The magical feeling of the movies is a tight rope act. The slightest nudge in either direction throws you out of the magical world and back into the everyday world. It became too difficult to go to the movies without having that magical feeling interrupted by rowdy teenagers, talkative adults, and ringing cell phones.
Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday gave me a chance to sit with my family in the congregation. The difference between work and worship is a different topic, but along with all the positive aspects of worshipping from the pew instead of the organ bench, I noticed that our congregation is not very good at preventing these distractions from the sacred feeling of church. I was downright embarrassed when (insert your organist's name) started her prelude and I couldn’t hear the organ over the conversations in the pews. The service starts with the Prelude. It is at that point, if not before, that we turn our minds and hearts to worship. The conversations were not, however, limited to just the Prelude. When I was still playing at St. Matthews Episcopal, an interim rector made a point of having the following saying printed at the very top of every bulletin:
Before the service, talk to God.
During the service, let God talk to you.
After the service, talk to each other.
I challenge the membership of (insert your church name here) to follow this simple saying. I don’t think we should expect better behavior from a movie audience than from a worship service congregation.