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Silence in the Church

510 S. Farwell St., Eau Claire WI 54701 • 715.835.3734 Map to the Cathedral

Silence in the Church from a tract at Durham Cathedral

~Fr. Michael

As a child I was taught always to whisper or speak quietly in church, except when joining in acts of public worship, and only to speak at all other times when absolutely necessary. The church building was a holy place, where people came to pray and to wait upon God in silence, and to engage in chatter was to show both a lack of respect for God and a lack of consideration for other worshippers.

St. Basil, one of the great preachers of the early church, lamented people who “hurry to church, but when they arrive pay no heed to the word of God, but smiling and shaking hands with each other they turn the house of prayer into a place of endless gossiping. They miss the sacred opportunity to speak God's glory in his temple, and they are a distraction to their neighbors by turning their attention away from God to themselves.”

What is our purpose in coming to worship. We do come to enjoy fellowship with other members of the congregation, but that isn’t why we gather; rather, we come together to worship God. Basil puts his finger on the point when he draws attention to the two directions of worship. We come to listen to what God has to say to us, and to offer him thanks and praise for what he has done for us. True fellowship springs out of our common experience of worship. When, however, we focus our attention primarily on our meeting with one another, it tends to become more a meeting with like-minded individuals or friends than with fellow-worshippers, with all the dangers of exclusive groups within the wider congregation.  There is wisdom in the old adage: “Before the service talk to God; during the service let God talk to you; after the service talk with one another.”

 Most of us are so caught up with the multitudinous activities of daily life that we find we have to make some effort to “tune in” to God in church. A good way to begin is to respect the attempt of others to do so, and not put impediments in their way.