To Clap or Not to Clap — Applauding in Church

July 20, 2013 at 9:05 pm 13 comments

I received a Facebook message recently from a friend asking me about my thoughts on applauding musicians after performing during a church service.  As the Soloist for seven years at The Mother Church, (the international headquarters of the Christian Science church in Boston), I had many experiences that involved applause… and many that did not.

I messaged my FB friend back with my thoughts.  She then asked me to share my answer to a broader audience.  This issue has come up often, so it seemed like a good thing to do.  Here goes!
Her Question:
“My question is related to the presentation and thanking of musicians during the services:  Many branch churches are considering being more socially warm toward our musicians. (organist and soloist).  Since the Church Alive Summit in Northern California*, many people are questioning whether applause is acceptable.

 I understand that The Mother Church (TMC) does not want to influence branch churches in their decisions, but I’m wondering why at times I have heard applause in the TMC service broadcast, and not at other times.”

* Regional gatherings of Christian Scientists and friends that are held around the world

My Answer:
Well, put on your seatbelt… Here are a lot of thoughts comin’ atcha!

I’m going to begin with the idea of applause in church.

First, it has been my experience that each branch church is working out applause and how to be more inclusive in their services on an individual basis.  I think it comes down to how the members of a particular church feel as a group.

You know, applause is a very personal thing.  It’s an expression of appreciation.  Sometimes it’s simply an instant heart — or gut — response to something that has deeply moved an audience, or in our case, a congregation.

During my seven years at TMC, applause came and went, and came back again. It ebbed and flowed according to the prevailing thought of the congregation.  Sometimes they applauded consistently, and other times the applause went away altogether.  The appreciation, however, was consistent throughout.  What that means is that whether people were applauding or not, I could always feel the warmth and gratitude for the inspiration received during a solo.

More often, applause was reserved for special moments. 

A special moment might simply be a soulful solo that cut straight through to the heart of the congregation, and the spontaneity of the applause was totally apparent.

Also, applause was given to our special music when I worked with guest musicians. Applause is such a normal practice of true appreciation and respect in other performance situations.  I think it was simply natural to applaud — to show gratitude for the guests, their artistry, and their innate sense of the sacred in our church services.  That was always very gratifying to me that the TMC congregation showed such embracing love to the guest musicians in those moments.

Master guitarist Bobby Stanton came to TMC at least once a year during my tenure to accompany me.  I believe he was the first guitarist to ever play during a church service in The Mother Church.  He brought with him not only his professionalism, but most importantly, his deep reverence for what we were doing.  The sounds of those solo moments were so magically different and created a uniquely new sacred feeling in that particular church space.  So, the applause was often that heartfelt kind, in gratitude, for a new view of Spirit inspired by the music.


Bobby Stanton, guest musician with Julia Wade at The Mother Church

Bringing in special musicians like Bobby represented, to me, an opening of thought to the truly infinite ways that Soul can be and IS being expressed through sacred music in our church services everywhere.

There were many other moments at TMC when a special solo occurred, and the silence afterward was simply palpable.  The expression of healing ideas in the song had so deeply reached into the feeling of the service, that the moment was uniquely holy and sacred.  Any out-loud, physical applause would not have been right in that instance.

There were times when people clapped with instant response to an uptempo, high-energy solo that was just bursting with joy.  That joy would be expressed back by the congregation in the form of applause.  It was natural, and always reminded me of Psalm 150 :

“Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness. Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp. Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs. Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals. Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.”

I think we are praising God when we are moved to clap in church after a particular musical offering.  Conversely, I also think we are praising God when we are moved to stillness and silence as well.  I think we are in church to praise God in an infinite variety of ways.

I always prayed for the freedom of the congregation to choose how to respond to each unique solo.  My prayer became important for my peace as there were times when I could feel part of the congregation trying to make something happen, and the other part resisting.  There was not a unity of thought in those moments.  So, my prayer became, “Father, let us all be part of the expression of Soul here today — in whatever way we are moved and whatever way is needed.”

That always comforted me and freed me to just do my job.  I was also comforted by knowing that I was on the platform with the purpose of performing in the service of God.  When I understood that my job was to be the messenger of the healing ideas in the solo, I felt great security and freedom.  That motivation and prayer always took away any fear or concern about any response afterward.  Mostly, I just knew that everyone out there in the congregation was working it out for themselves, too.  We were (and are) all in this together!

Now the issue of introducing musicians and readers:

Regarding being “socially warm to the musicians,” well, I admit, I am all for it!  I was treated warmly, lovingly and inclusively all during my entire 7 years at TMC.  I watched how each set of readers developed their own unique brand of warm communication towards each other, the congregation, the musicians, and all the folks who put on the services.  We who performed on the platform with them basked in their warm love and prayers.

That warm love and those prayers really tell me what we are there in church to do: to love.  Love our neighbors.  Love our church family in whatever ways we are impelled to express warmth and inclusiveness to one another.

Introducing our musicians, our readers, and warmly welcoming the congregation and the newcomers are all part of that individual demonstration and continuum of Love.  If church members are moved to make sure to shake hands with every newcomer before they leave, or to offer cookies in the Sunday School after church in fellowship, or introduce the musicians, well … I say more Love to them!

Thank you SO much for asking me to weigh in!  You got me going, and I loved thinking this all through.  It’s exciting to see and hear how the Northern California Church Alive Summit spurred such great thinking and questions!  (Check out the Nor Cal Church Alive Facebook page and their web page.)

As a side note, I’ve participated in other summits and most recently, I was invited to give a healing music concert at the Deep South Church Alive Summit in March 2013. (Check out the Deep South Church Alive  FB page and also their web page.)  It was a very precious and healing experience.  I understand the great energy of being flooded with new ideas and inspiration as a result of these summits.  I am truly with you and the many other folks all over the world who are searching and discovering how to respond to the call of Love in this present time of worship and prayer in church.  It is definitely a time of shift and we are all praying our way to more thoroughly be love in action!

Thank you for asking me to go on this thought journey!

Sending you love!


Entry filed under: Church Music, Inspiration, Inspiratus, Practice & Performance: Working It Out, Spiritual Thinkers. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

Deep Waters Fall 2013 Update

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Marie H.  |  July 20, 2013 at 9:35 pm

    Thank you !! xoxo Marie

    • 2. juliawade  |  July 21, 2013 at 12:56 am

      You are most welcome, Marie!

  • 3. trudystattle  |  July 20, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Julia. How to receive the solo (and postlude, sometimes!) should reflect the spirit of each branch church and be a spontaneous reaction to the music and inspiration of the moment. The last thing I would want is for the congregation to feel obliged to clap. I wouldn’t want to have rote applause for every Sunday’s gift, it should be a natural outpouring. Profound silence can convey an even deeper appreciation. I love simply to know the solo/music was uplifting.

    • 4. juliawade  |  July 23, 2013 at 1:21 am

      We are definitely on the same page, Trudy. My motive in writing this post was to share observations and direct experience as a congregation came together to make decisions both as a group and as individuals in the group over the years that I participated directly at TMC.

      One of the things that really struck me was that the TMC congregation is comprised of a core group: the local members who live in and around Boston, AND an ever-changing group of visitors: first-timers and people who never heard of Christian Science until they walked on the plaza; national and international members of The Mother Church – some who visited frequently, and some only once in a while or even once in their lives. What an incredible mix of folks — a microcosm of the world! So, that is why my prayer was to leave it God, and to pray for each individual’s freedom to respond in the moment as they felt.

      That prayer work was essential. The issue came up often during my tenure in meetings with the platform team and folks from the congregation talked about it too.

      I really like your thoughts on letting it be a natural outpouring — however it is manifested. Thank you!

  • 5. Amy Duncan  |  July 20, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    Yes! I so agree that applause should never be contrived or forced (either doing or not doing it) but always a spontaneous, natural response (either doing or not doing it) to the music that’s being presented.

    • 6. juliawade  |  July 23, 2013 at 1:43 am

      Yes Amy! You remind me that it often comes down to a balance of the letter and the spirit. Applause that becomes “technical” or “perfunctory” or “expected” feels forced. And that make it feel like too much letter and not enough spirit prevails. When the Spirit moves us, we feel the warmth, love and genuine appreciation — whether it is expressed in the quiet of our own consciousness, or it’s an out-loud clap of appreciation! The letter is there, I think, to give us pause for reverence, remembering where we are, and asking us to respond respectfully. Interesting mix and balance. Thanks for leading me to think of it this way!

      • 7. Amy Duncan  |  July 23, 2013 at 5:21 pm

        And thanks for pointing that out about the letter and the spirit!

  • 8. Marshal Root  |  July 20, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    This is a complex issue that has been a new-found source of joy and a source of division with some congregations. Thank you for laying out the many facets so clearly. One added complexity: when one soloist is in the audience for when other performances get applause. For that reason I support and join applause occasionally. This seems to be working for our congregation. I totally agree with Amy’s comment that it should be spontaneous and natural.

    • 9. juliawade  |  July 23, 2013 at 1:46 am

      Thank you, Marshall, for sharing your experience. So many are dealing on this same issue, and it’s important to hear how individual churches are working it out. Sounds like there is a lovely spontaneity going on in your church!

  • 10. Rob Scott  |  August 2, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    Thank you, Julia.

    Great topic.

    The golden rule can be a good guide.

    I was on Sanibel Island, Flordia for the holidays with a good friend of mine who is also a student of CS. Thus, we attended the local CS church there two years ago.

    The soloist was amazing. The entire congregation broke out in applause and cheers. It felt right and healing. I will always remember that experience. We all went to brunch after and somebody stated that it all started when one person clapped after a particular moving piece from the soloist one Sunday. Now they feel free to do so when it just FEELS right.

    I will have to admit the same experience happened at my local branch church when the soloist just blew me away one day. Thus, I broke out in applause after a particularly upbreat and moving piece from the soloist. I was joined by a couple other people and was met with a couple frown faces. The smile of gratitude from the soloist warmed my heart. I could tell there were others wanting to join in the clapping but were too timid.

    Yes, I feel it should be spontaneous and natural when it FEELS right to do it as there are times when it doesn’t FEEL right. And if somebody doesn’t want to clap then the others should not give a frown face as it should be an individual thing.

    Finally, let’s not forget the most important thing which is to love God the most and your neighbor as yourself.

    I will conclude with one of my favorite passages:

    1 Corinthians 13
    New International Version (NIV)

    13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

    Truth, Wisdom, Love and Sincerity, to ALL mankind.

    Rob Scott
    Chicago, IL

    • 11. juliawade  |  November 30, 2013 at 1:50 pm

      Hi Rob,
      Thanks so much for your thoughtful response. It’s a great conversation, and I love the fact that so many are responding in their own church communities in ways that make sense to their unique experiences. Thank you for weighing in!

  • 12. Dilip  |  October 20, 2013 at 12:02 am

    Thank you for a lovely discussion. Yes I too believe any action done spontaneously expresses the divine!

    • 13. juliawade  |  December 7, 2013 at 11:49 pm

      Hi Dilip! You said it perfectly! 🙂


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