I am noticing a trend in Sunday morning worship services now (I am 53 years old) that seems to say “anything goes” during the worship service. It’s either middle school or high school children texting away on their cell phones, usually to the person sitting right next to them, or adults who pull out a tablet to look up Bible verses, check their emails, or surf the net. The tablet light puts out such a strong glare it nearly blinds the person behind them because the overhead lights are dim, etc. This past Sunday, a grown man and woman sat immediately behind me with their 8-year old daughter and talked above a whisper throughout the entire sermon. They talked about something the pastor said, what they wanted for lunch, how much homework the daughter had to complete that evening, and on and on. I tossed back several looks at them during the service hoping to convey how distracting they were being to those around them, but this did no good.
What is the proper response in this situation? It would crush me if I turned around and told them to be quiet only to find out this was their first time in church and they never came back. The house of the Lord is open to all, as it should be, so do I just accept that this is our current society where it’s OK to be on your cell phone and talk to those around you out loud during a Sunday morning worship service? I’ve changed seating sections three times now hoping it was just an isolated incident, but this is occurring everywhere in church.
A: Your question is timely. Less than two weeks ago, I did a silent retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, and it was one of the most profound experiences of my life. While there I was reminded of something Thomas Keating has said. “Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation. In order to hear that language, we must learn to be still and to rest in God.” Nothing should come between you and that language, especially within consecrated walls.
I’d tackle this on several fronts. First, I’d initiate a discussion with key figures and friends in the church. Perhaps the pastor could ask that devices be turned off during certain services and explain why. Topics such as contemplation, quiet and mindfulness could be explored through Bible study and so forth. There’s a gentle, loving, and direct way to do it, and it must be done. If it’s bothering you, it’s disturbing a lot of other congregants as well. Folks are probably feeling queasy about speaking up. But that is how it will change, one person — and one pew — at a time. This is a kind of spiritual warfare, and you’ve been called to battle.
When someone interferes with your worship again, ask him to stop the chatter or to put his tablet or phone away. I know this is uncomfortable and awkward, but if you approach it in the right spirit, they will either comply or find a church that’s a better fit. You are actually trying to help them whether they recognize it or not.
Our culture makes many of us crave constant stimulation. Over-engagement with technology keeps us preoccupied when we desperately need to be still and fully present. Let’s protect our sacred spaces, and keep them holy. It is only there that our hunger for real connection can be satisfied.
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Lauretta Hannon, a resident of Powder Springs, is the bestselling author of The Cracker Queen—A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life and a keynote speaker. Southern Living has named her “the funniest woman in Georgia.” See more at thecrackerqueen.com.