That rings a bell

In my silent retreat this week at a monastery in New York, the worship services began with a bell ringing. A big bell is a beautiful sound that draws your attention. It’s no surprise that many religious traditions begin services with the sound of a bell. But Mennonites are not bell ringers. Long ago we decided that we didn’t need fancy bells and whistles to get our attention. We will come to church without external calls to worship, and assemble on time for our services. We come to worship because we want to hear what God is saying to us.

One of the things that I particularly appreciate about First Mennonite is that people pay attention when I’m preaching. Having listened and worked hard to hear God’s good news message for our church, I appreciate that people are respectful and listening, even though I know that not every sermon speaks to everyone equally.

I would like to see the same sort of respect and attention given to the scripture that begins our service. God calls us through scripture, and each week the call to worship is like a bell that should draw and focus our attention. I wonder if you notice that I do not begin the service with some chitchat about how I am and what nice weather we’re having. If it was chitchatting, then it wouldn’t matter very much to me if people drifted in gradually and others buried their head in the bulletin reading the announcements.

The call to worship is proclamation. It is God’s word from scripture that sets the tone and theme of our worship service. Because it’s the first thing that we hear in a service, it’s strength and power has the potential to reverberate in us throughout the week.

To enable us to hear this call to worship, I am asking that if you are in the foyer when I reach the pulpit, please remain at the back of the church until people stand for the first song. You may think you are being inobtrusive, just slipping in. But I can assure you since I have a view of everyone’s eyes, many people’s heads and most people’s eyes are turning to watch you take your seat. So not only are you missing the call to worship because you are walking in late, you are distracting everyone else’s concentration.

I wonder whether part of this inattention has to do with preparation for worship; we aren’t quite tuned in at first. By the time the prayers of the people and the sermon come around we are more focussed. Perhaps we need to begin our preparations at home with this week’s prayer:

Dear God: You know I need good news this week; you have words that will touch the deepest longings I have. On Sunday morning as I get ready and come to church, give me an expectant and open heart so that I can hear all you have to say to me.

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