I usually enjoy going to church. I look forward to it, despite talks that are occasionally less-than-dazzling, overly-perfumed women in the pew in front of me, and the family in the third row that refuses to take their baby out, even when she screams during the sacrament. There’s one pet peeve, though, that irritates me every week. Drives me crazy. Every week without fail. The noise level in the chapel before the meeting starts. Sometimes I feel more like I’m at a football game than at church.
This is a uniquely Mormon issue, from what I’ve seen. I have sung in lots of other churches, been a choir director for another congregation for several years, and attended meetings at many churches of many denominations. At all of these churches, the members come to the meeting and quietly sit in the sanctuary. They do not talk with their friends. They do not high-five each other (yes, I’ve seen this in our ward). They do not run around the chapel doing last-minute preparation for lessons. They don’t slap each other on the backs or call to someone across the room. They don’t laugh loudly or walk up and down the aisle shaking hands. They just sit and listen to the prelude music. Though I can’t know what’s in their minds, I assume they’re feeling the spirit of the Sabbath, meditating or getting in the mood for worship.
Why don’t we do the same? Are we naturally a more gregarious and social bunch? Do we love each other so much we’re overjoyed to see our friends? Are we starved for socialization that we use the ten minutes before the meeting? Are we simply rude? Do we have lousy organists whose music isn’t worth listening to? Is it because we’re irreverent and disrespectful? What’s up with this awful habit?
Whatever the reason, it seems a losing battle. I’ve been in meetings where the stake president or bishop has stood up and asked people to be quiet. There’s a hush … for about 45 seconds. My son attended a fireside where Elder Bednar finally stood and asked the congregation to be quiet – after two admonitions by the other general authority in attendance. I’ve been in meetings where the organist has made the organ quieter, or louder, or stopped altogether, to demand the audience’s attention. No deal.
I feel bad for organists who practice every week, only to provide religious elevator music. Our behavior seems particularly rude towards them. One time my husband, who’s an organist, played the theme song of Mickey Mouse, just to see if anybody would notice. Nobody did.
I also feel sorry for anybody who’s trying to prepare themselves for meaningful worship. The hand-shakers, back-slappers, and greeters will come welcome them, often loudly. Neighbors will sit down and chat with them, often loudly. A Sunday School or priesthood teacher may come and ask them to prepare a scripture or story for the lesson an hour or two later. And all of these episodes will be accompanied by the ever-present din of laughter, chitchat … and the occasional high-five.
This is our most significant gathering of the week, the time for our holiest ordinance. Is it too much to ask to enjoy a few moments of peace at the beginning of the meeting?