Ever been to a classical concert or recital and felt unsure about when to clap? The music stops, you thought you heard a great ending and you want to express your appreciation through applause, but the audience is dead silent.
Or maybe you’re an avid concertgoer, well-seasoned in concert etiquette. You know that you’re “supposed to” withhold applause between movements and then ring your praises at the end of the complete work. Unless of course, that work is more like a medium-length cycle included in a set, and the set is not quite finished. That means, wait, we’re not quite there yet! But then two distant clappers jump the gun causing the crowd to timidly filter in with might-as-well applause.
So what do we make of applause during Worship at Western? Should we or shouldn’t we?
I don’t think a rubric is necessary, and I wouldn’t deem clapping as forbidden behavior in church. I’d encourage us to use clapping as a genuine expression of appreciation and joy for special moments throughout the year. When the organ sings on with an extension or interlude between verses, think of it as a spontaneous form of praise, and use that time to reflect on the text. When the choir or a soloist sing, think of them as an extension of your voice in prayer. We aren’t performing for you, so don’t feel obliged to clap for the sake of good manners. Often, it’s best to dwell in the silence, meditate, and not disturb the flow of Worship. But once in a while, you may find yourself so overwhelmed with joy (or rhythm!) that you want to clap. Don’t stifle the spirit if it moves you. A church’s authentic burst of applause can be one of the purest forms of communal praise.