Response 1: Todd Herzer
In the church service, the solo is traditionally viewed as an opportunity for quiet reflection setting the stage for the upcoming Lesson-Sermon. For many, an applause following the solo might be an unwanted distraction.
However, the role of music in worship services is evolving significantly and becoming more contemporized to reflect the changing values of society. I have often visited a non-denominational community church that featured a small rock band playing contemporary Christian music. It was highly engaging for all ages. Fellow congregants sang along and clapped their hands, which seemed no less sacred to me than sitting in quiet reflection while listening to a traditional solo in a Christian Science church.
Several years ago the solo performed at our Thanksgiving service was extraordinarily moving, so much so that a young child began clapping. Soon the entire congregation joined with the child. We would later learn that a few members were disturbed by the incident. Interestingly, what followed was a series of deep discussions about the nature of the church service and the willingness to peel back layers of tradition to find more relevant ways to present our services.
Having been a branch church member for all of my adult life, spending many years sitting in services steeped in seemingly rigid tradition, I have found it refreshing to share ideas with fellow church members in examining new ways to present our services while staying consistent with our Manual provisions.
Your desire to express appreciation for the solo is commendable. If clapping after the solo is not consistent with your church’s current atmosphere it no doubt caught some people off guard. And it’s unfortunate that you were chastised for expressing your appreciation in that manner. You might consider creating an opportunity to open up conversations with the members about the role of music and how best to express appreciation.
I’ve attended Christian Science services where clapping after the solo is the norm. I know of some more traditional branch churches where clapping occurs spontaneously after a particularly moving solo. And yet, in my current branch church applauding after a solo never occurs. Are any of these churches doing something right or wrong? No, they are merely enjoying the Manual provision to be “distinctly democratic in its government” (Manual of the Mother Church, Article XXIII, Sect 10). So feel free to engage in participatory democracy and open up discussion with your fellow church members.
Response 2: Lois Herr
In our society today, we see accolades heaped on the superstar, whether in pop culture, business or sports. Perhaps that is one reason why Jeremy Lin, the New York Knicks basketball player has come as such a delightful and welcome change. Though a man of great talent, rather than hogging the ball for himself, he has spotted and skillfully passed the ball to open players, making everyone around him better.
For me, the presentation of a church service is a team effort. All the players, from the ushers to the readers, musicians and praying congregation, are integral to the service. So perhaps applauding the solist, as well done and inspiring as his/her singing was, unnecessarily singles out one of the team members.
It was such a courageous step that Mrs. Eddy took to halt the preaching of individual sermons tinged with personal opinions, and ordain the Bible and Science and Health as the Pastors of her church. The unique nature of our services, open wide the door to the healing Christ and turn us away from, among other things, personality. Just as a good Reader works to have us really hear the message and not a personality, surely the soloist takes that viewpoint as well. I’ve often been struck by this quote: “Remember it is personality, and the sense of personality in God or in man, that limits man” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, p. 282)
Maybe this answer gives some insights into another point of view.
But perhaps we are not given license to judge someone by whether or not we applaud after the solo. We need to recognize we have the ability to love our church family enough to give one another a little space to maneuver without either hurt or self-righteousness within this question. For me, this spirit of love is captured in this snatch of Hymn No. 170 that speaks volumes about personal choices. In the hymn, the choices are not at all about clapping, but about how we celebrate Christmas, which can also be full of personal opinions.
Keep while ye need it, brothers mine,
With honest zeal your Christmas sign,
But judge not him who every morn
Feels in his heart the Lord Christ born.
This spirit of being non-judgmental, as well as thoughtful of others, helps to turn our churches into safe places where we can appreciate one another, where we can grow, and where we can love and feel loved.