Sunday, February 21, 2016

Distractions in Church

I alternate weeks handling the sound system and slides with a young fellow--8'th grade, I was told. This is the hymn-based service, with no drums or amplified strings. The sound settings are pretty much "Set it and forget it" during rehearsal, and all you have to worry about is keeping the slides in sync.

He has had some issues keeping the slides in sync with the music, and with keeping the right mikes on. One person suggested that I train him a bit, but I declined. There's nothing much to learn here except to be attentive to what's going on.

I just wrote "what's going on," but the whole service is about "who's going on."

I recall one service in which I was running monitors. The singers needed monitors rather badly, because the drums and electric guitars make it impossible to hear yourself, even 20 rows back, let alone on the platform.

All monitors were muted while the minister led us in the introduction to the Lord's Supper, and then while the elements were being handed out the musicians were supposed to sing. The minister said "Let us bow and pray." I did. That's what the moment is about.

The musicians started up, but turned uncertain pretty quickly. After a few moments I figured out what what I'd forgotten and lit them up again.

Maybe the youngster is spacing out. That is easy to do. I've done it myself many times. Or maybe he's "spacing in" to the meaning and the who, and is distracted from the world and the machinery of the service.

The more complicated we make the service, the more workers there must be and the more the workers have to pay attention to the timing instead of the word.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Asking Ben to comment

Wyman said...

All right, jumping in.

I'll start off, Quora style, with a quick explanation of what I do - this isn't meant to sound pompous, in case it does, I'm just trying to establish that I know exactly what you're talking about. I'm a video producer and an IMAG director at a megachurch - that is, I'm on a comm system with the cameramen, the lighting guys, the sound guys, the graphics operator and the streaming technician, taking care of everything that goes onto the screens. Personally, I enjoy the creativity of the process, interacting with the other people, and feeling like I'm contributing to worship through my own talents. But, like most of these positions at churches, the first priority is technical proficiency and making sure things stay flawless during the service. If they don't, I hear about it from my boss and his boss and the pastor and half a dozen other people, most of whom have heard it from a number of people in the service. When you're in a church service, one mistake gets magnified. It can be extremely distracting for the people in that room worshipping.

For most churches, obviously, things run much differently. The person in the back is a volunteer, working in his or her spare time to help make the service run. Things are going to occasionally go wrong, and that's what happens. Even on "set it and forget it" services, stuff happens. Mics die, feedback happens, a buzz appears suddenly, a wireless channel is interfered with by another source. And, of course, human error happens - the wrong channel is muted or unmuted, cues are missed, etc. That's going to happen under the best of circumstances, and the people who it happens to usually feel pretty bad about it, or get really defensive, because suddenly all eyes are on them.

In the situation you talk about, I think there's sort of an unseen line that exists in church production. In smaller churches, when something like that happens, it's fixed with an apologetic wave of the hand and everyone moves along, sometimes feeling even more connected to the service, because the mistake is sort of part of worship. It's everyone together working to bring their spiritual offering to the Lord, and the humanity of a mistake is part of that.

Wyman said...

Part two....

At some point, though, the job of the person behind the board becomes more about making sure that everyone else is able to worship freely and without distraction. When the pastor and congregation bend their heads to pray, the sound guy does not, because he is focused on making sure that the service goes off without a hitch. We are a distractible people, and anything that can pull us out of a Christ-focused state probably will. So the tech disconnects from the flow of the service in order to make sure that no one else does.

This seems unspiritual, but this is in and of itself an act of worship. Many volunteers at churches do the same thing in different roles, and discover that they are still spiritually fed even while giving up their single-minded focus on trying to connect with God during the service. An usher stays focused on making sure that the service moves along smoothly, a children's teacher misses the service to read stories to unruly kids. There's an unquestionable spiritual element to the process of serving others.

Of course, any one of those people would tell you that they enjoy those Sundays where they are freed from their roles and allowed to just enjoy worshipping without having to care about the details. There's always a balance. People like me who work every Sunday usually find a different spot to worship without having to worry about the details of what's happening. It's nice to be freed from that pressure.

You're right that the more complicated you make the service, the more people who have to check out from worship to focus on the details. But while those people have experiences much different from those just sitting in the service, I don't think those experiences are lesser, or less spiritual. They're just different ways we experience being a child of God at church.

james said...

Thanks for the reminder. Somebody has to be Martha.