Frequently Asked Questions

To Clap or Not To Clap



This is a compilation of a discussion on Handbell-L on the subject of applause in public worship.  We have not tried to edit the submissions, other than cut obvious redundancy, comments that are deemed too pointed,  and copied texts, when not necessary for continuity.  We have listed them side by side in the hope that the conversation is somewhat related.


To Clap

Yikes!  This one is so hard and there are good points on both sides of this discussion.  We have had the discussion so many times in Worship, Music and the Arts Committee meetings, and have failed to come to a firm conclusion.  It has helped somewhat that we have a small deaf community and use the sign language expressions of applause (hold both hands in the air, fingers splayed, and move your wrists from right to left and back many times), and that is becoming a more frequent expression.  The congregation is inconsistent in this expression, it is often begun by one or a few and other folks aren't always certain about whether or not they should join in.The Psalms make reference to clapping of hands as a joyful worship expression.  Though I have yet to become comfortable with this expression, I think it has a valid place in worship and as someone said, it gives the congregation and opportunity for participation.    I think I would advise not saying anything about it in a formal way, but maybe opening up the discussion about clapping in some of the other groups that meet regularly, such as bible study and circles.  Nan Beth Walton

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MellyWCA group from my church recently went on a mission trip to Mexico, and they reported that the people in their host church waved their papers in the air after a musical offering.  Since then, some members of our congregation have been doing that. 

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> And  you know the "no applause" rule has really hit home with the kids when the say "no clapping in church - it's against God's law!".<no comment> but we've hit one of Michèle's hot buttons here....Some music prompts applause NOT as a "reward" for a "performance" [1], butrather as a show of appreciation for the gift that has been given.  Somemusic prompts silent meditation, other music prompts callings of "Amen!" or"Praise Jesus!"Why are some displays of worshipful emotion [2] permitted and others are not?Music is about creating emotion in the listeners.  *Sacred* music is about touching the worshipers' hearts in such a way as to bring them closer to God(ie. creating worshipful emotion).  If the Spirit then moves them to applaud, I say let them!  If He moves them to be silent, if He moves them to cry, if He moves them to shout for joy, if He moves them to get up and dance, I say bring it on!!But don't tell me I'm not in a worshipful spirit just because I applaud.... [1] why is "performance" a dirty word?  "Perform"  "to give a public presentation of" [2] which is NOT synonymous with "silence" -Michèle

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George M. Roper said:  . . . and you know the "no Applause" rule has really hit home with the kids when the(y?) say 'no clapping in church - it's against God's law!' "  I'd like to see book, chapter and verse on that one in the bible.George - I applaud when I want to, not when the congregation does - RoperOthello, WA

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From my perspective, applause is an individual response and Barbanile is on the right track.  It'sinteresting that most of the posts describe their "performance" in the worship service, even when itis done worshipfully.  Yet people are offended when worshippers are moved to applaud.  In myexperience, I have seen many people not applaud during a worship service even when others areapplauding - it is, after all, an individual expression of appreciation.  In the church I regularlyattend, after there is applause the senior pastor always steps up and says, "And all the peoplesaid: Amen."  This I find very irritating because in my mind it says that everyone who was moved toapplaud was wrong and it would have been proper for everyone to yell "Amen!" instead.  Why arechurches so concerned with regulating how people respond?Parker G. Emerson

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Without apology (and probably less tactfully than you requested), applause is a completely appropriate method to express thanks or pleasure for anything recited.  It is as appropriate as vocal exclamation.  It is as appropriate, and sometimes as clear, as silence.The only thing going against applause in a worship setting is that for some -- applause appears too secular, too much associated with rock concertsor political speeches.  This is sad.  "Amen" spoken at the end of a prayer, at the close of a musical number, in response to a deeply felt sentiment isquite acceptable.  Applause is  an expression from the depths as well.In this entire discussion thus far, I really object to the *offering* vs. *performance* dichotomy.  It's a put-down, dismissive, and an unnecessarycategorization.  My musical performance *is* an offering, whether I'm in a temple, sanctuary, church or not -- and I resent those who assert that, because I'm sitting in the Recital Hall at CSUS performing on my trombone, I am not worshipping God.  Such a narrow view of "offering" limits God to blessed worship, and I am certain God will not be so confined.I agree with Michele, but my feelings are much more passionate.  Most offensive is the attitude imposed on the work, for example, that my wife"performs" a handbell solo of "Amazing Grace" on the steps of the capitol but "makes an offering" when she renders the exact same "Amazing Grace" in front of the altar.  The subtext is that her praise is much more profound because of her location.  What a double standard!!  And the further argumentthat applause in a church setting destroys the worshipful mood assumes that music's mood cannot be just as scintillating or sensuous, prayerful orprofound in the Crocker Art Gallery among paintings of the forty-niners.  No one destroys my musical mood , not their hiccups, coughs, signs, moans, snorts or silence.Train your people to accept applause.  Those with a narrow view of "a fitting response" probably have a restrictive theology, too.  There is no thin  line between applause in accepting children's offerings or adult's.  The line is broad, and it's called a double-standard.   It may be uncomfortable for them, but precedents have been set:  many best-loved hymns were originally drinking songs.  It's time for us musicians to stop being apologetic:  handbells is not just for Christmas, and applause is not prohibited from the church.Paul W. Allen

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As in many churches, sometimes there is applause and sometimes not.  The young children often sing for the introit.  If there is applause at this time, it does not seem to break the flow of the service as much.  The children sing and ring well.Very rarely, the congregation will applaud after the choir anthem.  This is usually a natural response to some special music and does not seem to detract toomuch. With the bells, we find that how we end a piece can have a strong effect on how the congregation responds. Regarding how the congregation responds to the organist, I have never heard them applaud the prelude, but a number of times (in differentchurches), there has been applause after the postlude.  At that time it feels like they aresaying to the organist that it was a very special piece that has meant something to them and also to show their appreciation.Ann Flisrand

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To me, this would indicate a scary form of worship if it required a  congregation to applaud a performance in order to be active participants in the worship ... and if a justification for applause is trying to find an  opportunity for participation. >>I didn't mean to imply that folks are required to clap for a "performance",  but when it springs up out of appreciation, joy, a sense of response to what  has occurred, I don't think it is the same as clapping for a "performance".  The context of the overall congregational worship style is everything when it comes to such matters.  As I said, I am not  especially comfortable with it  myself, but I have never thought it was just applause for a performance, an expected expression.  Sometimes, folks just want to join in to the expression  with the choirs.  What are they supposed to do after you sing "Clap Your Hands All You People"?  And, no, it isn't the only way our congregation participates in worship.  But I'm not certain that I feel it makes sense to tell folks they cannot make that expression, if it is natural to them.  And yes, though we are a largely white congregation, we include our share of clapping and dancing in our hymnody and liturgy.  Part of who we are.  Perhaps not part of who you are.  This is a sticky wicket, certainly.  I hope we don't have to accuse folks of  being inappropriate when we disagree.  My post was meant to be a helpful response to Jennifer, period.Nan Beth Walton

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I am personally not comfortable with applause during worship, though my congregation does clap from time to time.  I was raised in the "music as an offering" school, and I believe wholeheartedly that my work should not be treated as a "show".  I have learned to accept the applause because it is worshipful to those who clap.  After all, my musical offering is intended to facilitate the worship of the congregation. My larger problem with applause comes as regards the children.  Our congregation ALWAYS claps for the kids, no matter how sloppy or poorly-done their music may be.  Many of the children actually bow, wave, and generally act like the rock stars they think they should be!  Our children's directors think this is cute, just as they think that mindless, up-tempo garbage sung by the kids is acceptable.  (They insist that the kids won't sing otherwise.....)   I am very insulted that people so underestimate our children that they trivialize their musical experience.  The directors are volunteer moms who no doubt let their children eat candy in place of meals because "that's all they like!"  I've tried to gently lead them toward some of the great children's literature, with little success.  They think I'm old-fashioned because I believe in quality.   The applause just makes a bad situation worse.  It's frustrating.My bell choir actually keeps track in our repertoire book just when the congregation clapped for them.  It happens rarely, and always on a festive, joyous kind of piece.  (The last was Valerie Stephenson's "Joyous Spirit" last spring)  In that context the applause is welcome and appropriate.  So much depends on WHEN the people clap!  Just my .02 worth.Judy Phillips

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Our head usher in our church died about a year ago and his wife requested that one of our choirs, "Celebration Singers", sing at his memorial service.This particular choir was his favorite to listen to because of our more contemporary and up-beat nature. (He was in his 70s by the way.)After one ofour numbers (I'm afraid I can't remember the title) his wife, eyes completely tear-filled and all smiles, immediately, and by herself, began to applaud.Almost as soon as she started to applaud she realized what she was doing at what is normally thought of as a very solemn occasion, and tried to stop herself. From the way she reacted to herself, you could almost hear her say, "Oh my gosh, what am I doing,"  You could tell by her body language that it wanted to come out and she was trying hard to suppress it -- she finally muttered something that looked like, "oh, I don't care" and she started toapplaud some more, still crying, still smiling. A few people in the congregation followed suit, but there was no one at that moment in more worshipful emotion than she, the one applauding the most. As the last of us in the choir turned to head towards our seats I noticed her, hands clasped, looking skyward in thanks. It was particularly moving for me to see this reaction from her and to know that in some way what we did helped her a bit during that difficult time. It helped me realize for the first time whatbeing in the music ministry is really all about.J.R. Smith

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> Also, one Easter morning in Indiana, I played flute in an arrangement of   Bill Gaither's (?) "He Arose" for flute, piano & organ & not only did the > people applaud, but they also shouted several "Amen!!"'s.> > Both of these things happened in a small-town Brethren Church which, while not "stodgy" are not exactly   the ultimate charismatics, either.  :-)> > Michèle> I think that I may have misperceived the point of this discussion.  I thought that we were focused on the handbell choir who "offers" a musical work which prompts, to some, an inappropriate response such as clapping.  I thought that our concern was the *manner* in which a piece is presented.Now, on the basis of some recent posts, it appears that fingers are being pointed at the applauders for their lapses of good worship etiquette.Michele has indicated that she waits to learn the culture of the worship environment she's in, whether to clap, stand, sing, whisper, shout or not.As a performer, and I use that term unapologetically to refer to *any* time I direct or produce a musical number in *any* location -- it is not myresponsibility to control or enable the audience's responses.  My goal is to present, either in offering or in performing (I still hate this dichotomy!),a finished musical product that fulfills my musical obligation.As a member of an audience, congregation or mob on the other hand, I am not responsible for the reactions of my neighbors.  If they are comfortable to applaud after a rousing version of "Festiva!" then  it is not my place, nor my authority, to shush them.  If after a passionate rendition of "The Old Rugged Cross" I am compelled to shout "Amen!" and this makes my neighbors uncomfortable, I may be willing to talk to them about my response but it isnot my fault that they're uncomfortable.I am reminded of those times when I've come across cable broadcasts of extended worship services which feature arms waving, shouting, weeping, loudprayers and other exclamations.  I always catch myself believing that the preacher consciously elicits those responses, and would be seriouslydisappointed if it were otherwise.Paul W. Allen

Not To Clap

 I agree with my pastor - the sound of applause after a tender violin  duet jars me out of the quiet worship place I was in - that the music   had brought me to.  But there's a very thin line there between being understanding and condescending or ungrateful.  Has anyone else had  to deal with this?  How did you approach it? >> Jennifer Vangolen

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Jennifer writes:<< Has anyone else had to deal with this?  How did you approach it? >>    A former pastor took the "You can't legislate how people should respond" attitude, so our services had become concerts....and they clapped for everything...after applauding an outstanding anthem, how could you not applaud all the others, so no one's feelings would be hurt?  I can't tell you how many beautiful moments of true divine worship were shattered by applause.  Our new pastor listened to the music staff. (None of us liked the applause, feeling that our music was an offering, not a performance.)  Very early in his tenure, he talked to the congregation about the issue, explaining our feelings--not just one Sunday, but 2 or 3 in a row.  He suggested that an appropriate response would be a sincere "Amen" or speaking to the choir(s) or soloists after the service.....or, even better, writing a short note of appreciation.  I can't tell you how quickly they caught on.  After a couple of Sundays, you could tell who hadn't been to church lately---those folks were still trying to initiate applause!  In the end, absolutely nobody was offended at the suggestion, and we're all much happier now. We still applaud after the children's and youth musicals, but not on general offerings throughout the year.  We don't want them to get in the "performance" mode, either.  They need to know at a young age that with our efforts during the worship service, we are simply offering back to God the beautiful gift of music which we have been given by God.  BTW, Jennifer, we had a rather lengthy discussion of this very topic in 1998, and I saved all the responses to the Handbell-L....accumulated a sizable folder of opinions.  I will send those to you if you want them.Alice in Midland, MI

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How did you approach it? >>About the same way you did.  I put a notice in the church bulletin on a Sunday when a bell choir was playing, and I asked the minister to draw the congregation's attention to it.   Actually, I requested that the congregation refrain from applause for ANY choir, including the children, and I explained the reasoning to the children's' choirs beforehand.   It worked quite well.That was a different church, and I have since moved and have no directing responsibilities where I am now.  The attitude about applause is about the same, although occasionally people will clap.  During Advent, we do a lessons and carols service that many visitors attend, and the minister always makes an announcement at the beginning, asking people to refrain from applauding.  A coworker of mine, who attends a church where they applaud all the time, said he found this very stifling.  He said his natural response to inspiring music in worship is to applaud, and that he considers that a worshipful thing to do.Melanie Cantrell

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I understand what you're saying, and I agree wholeheartedly with your statement about touching the hearts of the worshipers. I feel truly blessed to be a church musician.  My "mountaintop" spiritual moments have happened while making music.  However, I think it's also important to observe the customs of the worship community.  For example, in my church, we stand for the reading of the Gospel.  For me,  that's an appropriate and worshipful thing to do.  If I were visiting in a congregation that doesn't have this custom, I'd call attention to myself and probably disturb the worship of others if I were the only one standing during the Gospel lesson.  I think the same can be said of shouting, "Amen" or other exclamations during the sermon, or of raising hands in praise, or of dancing in the aisles during hymns, all of which are common in some congregations and not others.  I think applause falls into the same category.  MHOMelanie Cantrell

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> The Psalms make reference to clapping of hands as a joyful worship  expression.  I think there might be a difference between clapping as an expression of worship of an actively worshipping congregation (as in an African-American style of worship) and applause as an expression of appreciation for a good performance from a passive audience.  Personally, I've been in churches that go both ways and feel far more comfortable and am able to maintain a more worshipful mood when applause does not break the flow of the worship experience.>  Though I have yet to become comfortable with this expression, I   think it has a valid place in worship and as someone said, it gives the congregation and opportunity for participation.To me, this would indicate a scary form of worship if it required a congregation to applaud a performance in order to be active participants in the worship ... and if a justification for applause is trying to find an opportunity for participation.I remain very uncomfortable when I am in the congregation ... or, worse yet, when I am offering music in a congregation ... and applause follows the completion.  I just read somewhere (maybe it was here ... I've been reading a lot of books and articles getting ready to go to seminary) that it takes at least two to three seconds after the end of a musical offering for its meaning to be completely absorbed into the worship experience.  If applause follows immediately after the final cutoff, the opportunity to experience this level of meaning is lost.  I'm sorry I can't offer the source right off the top.In my home church, the congregation sings hymns of varying styles (from poetry set to four-part chorales to current God-centered hymnwriters' single melodies with accompaniment to verse/response styles of hymns), participates in the Psalter (responsively with an included musical antiphon), participates in almost all musical responses (what is sometimes called "service music" or "choral responses"), recites prayers and creeds, and participates in the liturgy of the occasional services (baptisms, reception of new members).  The only time they are an "audience" is during musical offerings by ensembles (when others are making offerings to God on their behalf), the reading of the day's lessons other than the Psalm, the sermon, and the pastoral prayer (although, on occasion, this prayer is done in litany format).  And this is all done in the manner of the Service of the Word, a liturgical format.  When the Holy Eucharist is celebrated, the congregation participates in its liturgy and musical settings.  Our worshippers are very actively engaged in the entire service without using applause as a way of having them participate.Brian Burke

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> But don't tell me I'm not in a worshipful spirit just because I applaud....Wouldn't dare do that, Michele!  For some people, applause in worship is within the comfort level.  Have at it!!!!  That's why there are different styles of worship to reach different people.But I think that most applause does not come from the "List of Considered Responses to a Musical Anthem In Worship".  :-)  As others have mentioned, applause in worship tends to come after EVERY ensemble performs, which makes it seem to come from the Pavlovian "Conditioned Responses to Worship" side of things.  Every church's mileage may vary.Those of us who have been trained as concert musicians and move to the church venue have dealt with applause in the natural course of our musical life.  I notice, however, that we talk about applause only in the musical aspects of worship.  No one seems to talk about a response of applause after a reader gives a particularly emotive rendition of the day's hell, fire, and brimstone Hebrew scripture lesson.  Nor have I heard any discussion of applause after a vibrant and uplifting sermon.  Neither has mention been made about the organist that does a technically brilliant, joyous prelude before the service but receives no applause.Could it be that we, as musicians trained as performing artists rather than as participants in a worship service, have a differing view of our craft within worship than do other participants of their craft?I would be curious to hear from everyone, and especially the ordained on the list, about why music is the only part of the worship service that seems to generate applause and if anyone applauds sermons ... or the organist's prelude ... or other parts of the worship service.What about the other worship arts: liturgical dance, liturgical drama, and the like.  Are these acts of worship applauded?No, your responses won't be in one of my papers written for liturgy class next spring, although the cross-section on the L does provide a wonderful forum for discussion and can help me (and others) see all perspectives.  But I would like to take this discussion beyond the superficial that we always seem to resurrect and probe it in more depth.Brian (pre-seminarian) Burke+++++our church does not often applaud our truly world-class pianist/organist, but people do stay in the sanctuary for the postlude and applaud visiting musicians (like the oboeist yesterday).I agree that the intent of the applause determines whether it's appropriate or not. If people aren't participating by meditating on the words or music; if they are concerned about the musicians' feelingsrather than what the music means to God and the congregation as a whole, then the applause has a selfish tinge, IMO. Music in worship is (or should be) a corporate act...applauding for the efforts of one person seems rather a disassociative act, dividing the Body of Christ. Participating in applause as part of worship ("clap your hands, all yepeople") is unifying.Last week I sang a solo in church (good thing, too, as I had my tonsils out this morning and don't feeling like making any kind of a noise rightnow!) and there was no applause afterwards, which is normal for an LCMS Lutheran church. It warmed my heart to be told afterwards by many peoplehow much they appreciated it, and to receive a hug from the music  minister who worked on it with me. It was kind of like offering a group gift to God ...their expressed appreciation was letting them put their name on the card. You don't have to actually make the gift to be part of the offering...being there to hear it made is an equal participation (TAN: would we still offer our music in worship if there was no one to hear it? Doesn't it require other people to listen? This falls in the category of , If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does itmake a sound...). Again, this is all MHO.BTW, our closing hymn last week incorporated congregational clapping, so it's funny this topic came up now. Can't remember the title, but it wasan old Hebrew tune ("All the trees of the field will clap their hands XX, the trees of the field will clap their hands XX," etc.). It was very uplifting and we burst into spontaneous applause at the end and "went out with joy"! So clapping definitely has its place in worship, to my mind.Tammy Raetz (trees have hands?)+++++This is a topic that has been a hot issue at our church for years. We at one time had a little blurb in our bulletin that is similar to many of the ones suggested. Many people felt uncomfortable not applauding, some were just rebellious and angry that anyone would tell them how to worship, others grumbled and others were happy with the situation. We then got a new pastor, who took the little blurb out, and as a result--no one knew what to do anymore. Should we applaud, should we donothing, should we say amen?This is what I do. I have felt closest to God during many moments of musical worship, and I know that many worshipers also have felt this.When I program a particularly quiet piece, and this is especially with the children, they are taught how to quietly lower their bells AND their heads in a prayerful way. Or they may lift their eyes to the cross that is on the altar (our church is in the round). We have never had applause after doing this-- we may hear a quiet amen.Likewise if a piece has particularly exuberant ending (with marts or shakes, for example), we practice that unison flourish. If people chooseto applaud, then okay! But as a director, just as we often have to cue the congregation in to sing during parts of anthems, we can convey the mood and message to the worshipers. I personally find that this is the best way of handling the situation within my church.Yours in Christ,Nena Jo Keefner

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Okay, I can't stay out of this discussion any longer!  The particular problem at my church was that the congregation felt compelled to applaud *every* time the children sang or played (no matter how well or poorly they had done--just to encourage them, as one parent put it) and *never*applauded the adult groups (vocal or handbell).  I wrote an article for our church newsletter explaining that singing/playing in one of the children'schoirs was worship leader education, and that we had been trying particularly hard to help the children understand that they were notperforming for the congregation, but offering their music to God.  I also noted (as someone else recently pointed out) that I had never heard themapplaud the sermon, scripture reading, or prayers.The applause happens very infrequently now; in fact, that last time we heard it was when the adult bell choir played Bruce Greer's *Just a Closer WalkWith Thee* with a really hot clarinet soloist!Ann Wood
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In our church it is not customary to applaud after an anthem, but the minister says thank you to the performer during the announcements at the end of the service and it is at that time that the performer gets thanks by applause.  Doesn't interupt the "flow" that way.Ginny Scott
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As many have said, it all depends on the crcumstances.In my church, applause is very much an evaluation of the performance; and both as a worshipper and a presenter I find it disruptive.  However, as a friend reminds me -- "some people just HAVE to"; and it IS a little presumptuous of me to be so sure what they mean,  so I just try not to do too much judging myself.FWIW,GeOrdun

 

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