Pulling Out All the Stops


The service was packed. The worship team had been preparing worship options throughout Holy Week that were beautifully planned and meaningful. Today, however, was the crowning glory of this time of remembering. As the worship team started the service with outstanding energy and high volume, the child sitting next to me quickly clamped his hands over his ears. What was a delight to my senses was uncomfortable for him.

As I listened to many others tell about how their congregation “pulls out the stops” on an organ or with additional instruments or great festivities on Easter Sunday, I could not help but wonder how many congregants covered their ears in those settings. After all, movie theaters offer “sensory friendly showings”; what might that mean in our congregational settings?

While it’s always hard to find a balance between the varied, God-created sensory systems in the people who participate in any worship setting, some communities have given significant thought to this issue.

One congregation has invested in some noise-cancelling headphones. In the weekly bulletin you will find the statement: “If any of your family members would benefit from noise-cancelling headphones, they are available to borrow at the welcome station.”

Another congregation has a worship area with three connected parts. The main area receives most of the sound while an alcove to the side receives somewhat less sound while watching through livestream. The original “Cry Room” has been turned into an even more protected area where people can still see the service but experience much less sound and have some freedom of movement in that space.

In yet another church, people are invited to worship in three distinct areas: the main worship area, the community room where there are round tables and chairs set up with a livestream feed into that area, and the “sensory room” where lighting is calm, sound is down, and the area is stocked with some key equipment to allow worshipers to keep sensory systems satisfied while still engaging in worship.

While there will still be those who are thrilled with the trumpet blast and others who will head for the door due to the pain it inflicted, it’s exciting to see how congregations are considering built-in options so each one can best enter in to worship. What a joy to see Philippians 2:3-4 in action. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

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I don't usually have a problem with a trumpet blast or pulling out the full stops on an organ ... but I recently have had occasion to attend a church in which the minister is very fond of using movie clips to highlight certain points ... While not something I am entirely in favour of, I could manage to live with them, if those clips weren't being played at movie theatre volume ... That's when I can experience serious and extremely pain -- I might even refer to it as a sensory assault!

I have fibromyalgia, an illness which can often affect all aspects of the senses in rather painful ways ...

Even loud noises, especially when seemingly discordant and/or sustained, without allowing the senses to adjust slowly, can lead, for me anyhow, to a near panic situation ... and I can only imagine how it might affect those with hearing aids ... 

I am definitely not saying that those media resources should not be used, but perhaps toning down the volume might be a viable option ... after all, I don't believe God is actually going deaf or would have trouble hearing at any decibel, even lower ones ...

Thank you! and God bless!