Bearings, Part III B: Bearings before the Entrance

By Taylor Burton-Edwards

This is part 4 of a seven part miniseries. Part 1, introducing this miniseries, is here.

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Ball Bearings. Image by Zephyris. Used by permission under a Creative Commons License.

This is part 4 of a seven part miniseries. Part 1, introducing this miniseries, is here.

Worship that engages the whole gathered community does not and cannot begin arbitrarily. Those who compose the worshiping community are asked move from whatever they've been doing before they arrived to "full, conscious, and active participation" in the act of the Entrance.

That's a big ask!

It's a huge shift for bodies, minds and spirits, and the opposing forces are significant. People enter worship with what could be hundreds or thousands of preoccupations or distractions, large or small. Against all of those individual forces, somehow we are trying to arrive collectively at a singular focus on offering ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as the body of Christ in the presence of the Triune God.

Sound or music can be a very effective bearing to carry this shift in forces. A prelude alone, in many cases, doesn't quite accomplish this. More often the prelude functions more as an instrumental accompaniment to what happens before worship-- conversations, acts of personal preparation, people still arriving from a variety of different places and often through a variety of entrances. This isn't he same as creating an actual, clear and effective shift point between the body not yet at worship and now fully at worship.

What is usually needed to create that shift is something more dramatic, some other sonic, musical or kinetic event that immediately dissispates, interrupts or overwhelms personal, individual energies and creates a singular "whole body" experience of being the worshiping assembly at worship.

In contemporary worship settings, this is often accomplished through what some call "the band blast." The band blast is a very loud, familiar (sometimes secular!) song with driving rhythms, a strong vocal lead, and a chorus that all can join and sing. In last year's spoof video, "Sunday's Coming," the makers of the video referred to this as "Opening song, lights and big drums-- you know it's cool because you've heard it on the radio." Call it what you will, it works! Bearings. Distraction ends. Focus is achieved. Worship begins.

My wife is an Episcopal priest, current serving as Rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Columbus, Georgia. When she was serving as associate at Trinity Episcopal Church, in Indianapolis, Indiana, many people tended to arrive early to remember their baptism at the font, pray in the pews, have brief conversations, look over the worship program and announcements, and listen to the prelude (if they're not otherwise occupied). But all of these are what might be called "warm-up" or "cool down" activities. No one of these actually functions as bearings between their individual arrivals and the corporate act of Entrance. All of them are more like "pre-lubrication."

What functions as bearings at Trinity is the ringing of a bell.

The prelude stops. There is a brief silence. A bell rings. Immediately everyone stands, and just then, as the bell is still resounding, one of the priests offers the greeting that kicks off the entrance: "Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit," to which the people respond in unison, "And blessed be God's kingdom, now and forever. Amen." The collect for purity follows (see UMH 6), the organ plays the introduction to the processional hymn, the choir starts moving, the thurifer starts swinging the incense (on major holy days), and the people all sing.

Before the bell, all kinds of distractions. After the bell, total focus by all. Bearings at work-- simple, elegant, effective.

At Christ Deaf Church (UMC) in Baltimore, Maryland, the bearings are also sonic, but for most participants there it is more sonic-tactile than musical. A lay leader strikes a large gong, and announces, with loud words and large, dramatic signs, "In the name of the Father" (gong), "and of the Son," (gong), "and of the Holy Spirit," (gong) "Three-in-One!" Not just the sounds, but the vibration of that gong can be felt in the floorboards and pews where all are seated. All kinds of texting, signing, or various stages of preparation are happening in the room before that gong. But immediately, at the first strike, all comes to focus on why we've gathered and in whose Name. Bearings at work.

In all three of these contexts, words alone couldn't do this as effectively. Nor would simply starting with a hymn. A powerful sonic or sonic-tactile-musical effect makes the shift to the Entrance both smooth and complete.

Can you identify the bearings before the Entrance where you worship? If not, what sort of event, sonic, musical or other, might you consider to create bearings there?

The Entire Series
Part I: Good Mapmaking (Finding your way in worship planning.)
Part II: Playing with the Angles (Spirit-driven worship needs flexibility and rehearsal!)
Part III A: Fluid Motion in Four Movements (Beyond transitions between elements-- bearings between movements!)
Part III B: Bearings before the Entrance (this post)
Part III C: Between Entrance and Word/Response
Part III D: Between Word/Response and Table
Part III E: Between Table and Sending