Clamp Down On The Clap
Is clapping a disruptive outburst or a
demonstrative form of worship?
At my church the pastor, Jerry Stinson, gave
a provocative sermon about two Americas
on Independence Day Sunday. I felt the sermon was
for me. When the soloist sung a song talking about what
God did for her or what God brought her through or how
much she loved the Lord she was my Holy Spirit. With
stirring. I and many other listeners applauded at the her much sweeter voice than mine she was telling God
sermon’s end. There were some congregants who were how my soul felt about Him. She was singing for me and
offended by the sermon’s perceived anti-patriotism. to me and through me. She was singing right through
The applause at the end of the sermon was, for them, a the outer, public me to the personal me, my soul. And
thunderous slap in the face. she was lifting my soul and soliciting it to join her in the
In the Church Council meeting that took song of praise and worship. I could sing my praise right
place after the sermon, the “issue” of clapping was along with her leading me. I could clap my praise along
raised. It is not the first time the issue has been brought with the music accompanying her. I could call out to her
up. In a church like mine it can be a difficult issue to personally and tell her to sing that praise on my behalf.
discuss. The reason this issue is so hard to discuss is I could shout out “Sing Sister Smith!”. Only I would not
that clapping and other forms of demonstrative worship pronounce it “sing”, I would pronounce it “saaanng”.
mean so many things to so many different congregants. After the last note of her song had been played I could
That is the beauty of my church and the curse. keep singing, keep shouting and keep clapping as the
During Martin Luther King weekend the Holy Spirit moved me. God is good, after all, and praise
music for the church service leans towards Civil Rights of Him happens on His time, not human time.
era gospel flavored tunes. Congregants are encouraged The pastor in my former Black church might
to clap while singing along with the choir. No one ever also be speaking to me. And frequently what he was
complains about this clapping. For years the choir was saying was things I did not necessarily wish to hear him to prod me into a closer walk with God. This irritates
lead by the incredibly talented and passionate Lee Vail but needed to hear. The pastor’s job was to call the a lot of congregants just like the prophets irritated the
who is also a dean at the CSULB music department. Lee congregation to a closer walk with The Lord. Well that Isrealites. I remember one time Jerry preached on radical
recruited many choir members from among his most often meant pointing out the ways in which, during love and radical acceptance and he took it to the head.
gifted choral students. He directed the choir in complex daily life, congregants fell short of Christ’s example. In He stood on that pulpit and he told the congregation
choral pieces and he favored the old masters. The pieces the Black church it was said that the preacher “cut” you. they should offer forgiveness and acceptance right
were beautiful, moving, soul lifting and impossible Meaning he (it was always “he”) used the penetrating there in the church even to the most outcast of outcasts,
to sing along with or clap to. The best an individual Word of God to expose your spiritual weakness and call the pedophile. Oh you could hear crickets in the pews
congregant could do is be moved and perhaps clap at you to repentance and reform. When I recognized the after that line. The thing is he had totally set the whole
the end of the piece. rightness of his words I could shout out to him “Speak the thing up with scriptural examples from Christ’s life and
But clapping at the end of the piece is not Word” or “Amen” just plain “Preach!”. When I recognized teaching. I shouted out “Preach Jerry” just like I would
generally accepted because it puts the choir in the the rightness of his words as they reflected on my own have at my old church. Because I know I was certainly
position of performers and the congregants in the sinful ways I could say “Weeellll”. These outbursts were being “cut” by the scriptures he was citing but I could not
position of audience. The thought is that the choir is not all perfectly acceptable ways to let him know he was not deny the righteousness of his message. I hated to have
putting on a “show”, they are helping lead the worship speaking to a recalcitrant flock so vested in their sin that him preaching that truth, no matter how harsh, and
service and the congregants should respond in a manner they were unable to respond to God’s penetrating words. just hear crickets in the pews. There have been other
befitting a communal spirit of worship. Maybe it is because Pastor Jerry worked in times when I have offered an “Amen” in response to the
Well, what is worship? In my childhood, Africa but for whatever reason he reminds me of a Black sermon and after the sermon I’ve been told by this or
growing up in mostly Black Baptist churches, a preacher. Not at all in his style but in his substance. He that co-congregant that they got something positive out
significant portion of worship was praising God. Praising is always pushing me as a congregant. He never allows of my speaking up during the sermon.
Him through song was heavily emphasized. I remember me a moment’s comfort or complacency regarding how Still, I can’t really say that in the whole
being frequently reminded by the pastor that if I did not good a job I’m doing in living out God’s radical welcome, time I’ve been attending my church I’ve ever heard
wag my tong and sing His praises the rocks would do it with the emphasis on “radical”. I can always depend on 1
any speaker at the lectern say the words “Can I get an
The pieces were beautiful, moving, soul lifting and
impossible to sing along with or clap to. The best an
Clamp down on individual congregant could do is be moved and perhaps
the clap (continued) clap at the end of the piece.
Amen?!”. I’ve even heard that the pastor and associate
pastor find responses from the congregants break their
flow during their sermons. My speaking up is the type
of thing that is now under discussion as being disruptive
or disrespectful of other congregants who are trying to
listen and meditate on what is being said.
And there is the rub. There are congregants
that consider worship to be a quiet, meditative, time.
There are congregants that consider worship to be a
joyous, exuberant time. There are congregants that
don’t believe there is an actual deity to worship so
“worship service” is, for them, just a word for coming
together with other humans in community. And when
other humans take the time and effort to practice songs
over and over until they can sing them perfectly and
beautifully on Sunday morning in front of people, they
deserve applause. The diversity of the church is one of
its strengths. It is also an attribute that is going to make
this a very long discussion.
PASTOR JERRY STINSON - LINKS
Center For Progressive Christianity
Hotel Workers Launch Boycott At Three LA-Area
South Coast Interfaith Council
Excerpt from Contemporary Sociology article
about the challenges of intergrated churches and how
that plays out in discussions about demonstrative
has been a resident of Long Beach, CA since sixth
grade at Longfellow Elementary. She now resides
in downtown Long Beach where she freelances in
Graphic Art, Web Design and Photography.