Do not Disturb – Closed for Religious Services


In a rare moment of weakness I ventured into the mall a few days ago. At a T-Shirt kiosk I saw a shirt with this logo on it….

 Do not disturb!
I’m disturbed enough already

 I almost bought it, but I thought it might be overstating the obvious for me to wear that t-shirt.  I was at Clergy Conference this week in Niagara Falls and I saw a different sign that reminded me of the T-Shirt I saw a few days ago. I arrived for the opening worship on Wednesday a few minutes late. My colleagues were all assembled in the beauty and majesty of the chapel at the Mount Carmel Retreat Center. I locked the car and jogged up to the steps (ok, no I did not jog, I walked – briskly!) When I got to the bottom of the steps and could hear the beautiful singing from within, my heart leapt with joy and anticipation for worship. I looked up and there before me I read this sign ….

At the Mount Carmel Retreat Centre in Niagara Falls

The chapel is now CLOSED for a “RELIGIOUS SERVICE!” I could not resist taking this photo.  Being a priest of the church I was not shy about walking past the sign toward the inviting sounds of Angus Sinclar’s music and the unified voices of the clergy of our Diocese in song. When I got inside I thought, is that sign just another way of saying – Do not disturb! It was crafty to use such soft colour tones and such a pretty font, but the message here is not  subtle; “The religious people are praying, come back when we are done.” It may as well say – Do not disturb, we are disturbed enough already.

I suspect our conference organizers did not know that sign was there each time we worshipped because the spirit of worship that was offered would have been most open to any and to all. [I hasten to add that they did a fine job of planning a great conference – thank you for these past three days!]  Now I realize that the retreat house uses that sign when worship is happening because there are plenty of tourist who might wander into the worship space. But I ask; what if they did? What would happen if a stranger cam and stood among us?

What if the sojourner walked in the midst of her/his brokenness? What would the pilgrim find? Would he or she find a place of hospitality or a place of hostility? This is very serious question that we need to ask in our communities. The theme of our days together revolved around circles of dignity. The words that heard again and again these past few days were. ‘Dignity demands a response!’ I could not hold that phrase and that sign together – they are simply incongruous. How many of our congregations have this same message at the door? We do not need to have a well constructed sign with fancy font at the door to communicate that very same message. How often when people come to see us for the first time do they find that they are disturbing us? How often do people find us closed for religious service? It happens in subtle ways. For example, perhaps we are so caught up with being a ‘family’ that we forget that one can never really join another family. Perhaps we find ourselves using words or music that is foreign to many who are unfamiliar with church. Perhaps we find it obtrusive to the liturgy to announce pages or hymn numbers so we don’t. To the one who has never seen a Prayer Book, a BAS, or a Common praise – we are basically saying, we are all busy doing our thing, we’ll be with you shortly for a coffee. Perhaps we have seats we like to sit it and get annoyed when a stranger sits in ‘our seat.’ Perhaps while we smile at the visitor in our midst that cannot hide the scowl we have for our fellow church member who we are fighting with at the moment….I could go on…but you get the idea. There are many ways that we communicate by what we say or do, or fail to say or do.

We need to be reminded that the face of Jesus visits us regularly. Often the stranger brings so much of him/herself and it is often in an attempt to seek peace, sanctuary, rescue, forgiveness… we are, all of us, searching to have a balm for our brokenness. In the Wounded Healer Henry Nouwen asserts,    

 When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope.  Through this common search, hospitality becomes community.  Hospitality becomes community as it creates a unity based on the shared confession of our basic brokenness and on a shared hope.  This hope in turn leads us far beyond the boundaries of human togetherness to Him who calls people away from the land of slavery to the land of freedom. A Christian community is therefore a healing community not because wounds are cured and pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pains become openings or occasions for a new vision  Mutual confession then becomes mutual deepening of hope, and sharing weakness becomes a reminder to one and all of the coming strength.

 Trouble is we cannot and we will not ever allow that community to be made real if we can’t bother being disturbed or interrupted in our moment of worship. I really enjoyed the time our clergy had with Dr. Gerald West and his Wife Beverly Haddad who was our guest preacher.  They reinforced the idea that dignity demands a response. Perhaps one of the first of those responses to dignity will be to remove those real and figurative signs that tell others that we are closed.

Is your/my Church community ‘closed for religious services?’ What are we to do about it?

8 thoughts on “Do not Disturb – Closed for Religious Services

Add yours

  1. You can learn a lot by visiting the mall, reading slogans on T-shirts or simply paying attention to bumper stickers;-).

    I saw that sign and found it very off-putting. When we were in Paris visiting Notre Dame Cathedral a few years back, there too was a sign notifying one and all that a service was going to take place soon. But it did not have the same tone. It was just an announcement, assuming that all the tourists would maintain a respectful decorum–no different then the signs we saw at Arlington Cemetery in Washington, DC asking that people be silent or speak in soft voices to show respect. Why do we assume that people are going to behave like yahoos. When one attends a symphony a certain behavior is expected and all seem to be aware of this. Hushed tones are even expected when watching a game of golf! Those who attend such events know. Why are we so easily offended?

    Perhaps it was just a poor choice of words, poor sentence construction, a certain arrogance or a combination of all of the above. Perhaps, someone was having a bad day when they constructed the sign. Perhaps, we need to give people the benefit of a doubt more often these days and be kind.

    1. You asks a valid question, “Why are we all so easily offended”? I hate to say that I believe that it is because we all (at least at times) feel we are the most important person on the planet and how dare anyone slow us down or get in our way. Maybe I’ve missed the point and before I go off on a tangent, maybe we all just need to do as the Queen suggests and Remain Calm & Cary On. Anyhow…
      As for the question Kevin posed; I would have to say that the sign he references probably is just worded poorly, and to be honest, if I would have done as Kevin did and gone in; after all I’ve been to Church, I know how to behave, I know the service, and …… BUT WHAT IF I HADN’T? We know how to act at the Symphony and on a golf course because we’ve been there. BUT WHAT IF WE NEVER HAVE?
      Maybe, I am missing Kevin’s point as well, but what does that particular sign (or the many Kevin mentions) say to someone who has never been to church, to the person who is searching for something, looking for help, is finally turning to God out of desperation, despair, hoping for comfort?
      I grew up in a particular Religion and as I became an adult, I started to see the some of the signs Kevin talked about, and it drove me away from what I thought was the church; it wasn’t until many years later that I finally saw the welcome sign again and figured out what “The Church” really is. It wasn’t until my wife and I stepped into a little Anglican Church near Lake St Clair that I finally saw the signs I needed to see. We were welcomed as long lost family, we were made to feel at home, so much so that in very short order I became a Warden (An office I NEVER thought I would want or hold, given where I came from) My family now lives in Fergus, ON and it broke our hearts to have to leave and begin church shopping again. The trouble is, now we know how to read the signs, and we visited several different churches of different religions looking for the welcome sign again. We now attend service in Guelph were we saw the Welcome Sign, where my family was made to feel a part of “The Church” and where we ourselves feel comfortable and hopefully display the Welcome Sign ourselves; never knowing who may be there with us looking for the same things I was.
      There are at least a couple songs about signs, but the message is basically the same, there is what the sign(s) physically say and more importantly how they say it. We may say Welcome and put on a Happy Face, but what are we really saying? We need to make sure that what we say, type, and text is clear and what we want to say, keeping in mind that what they imply or how they are interpreted can be significantly different.
      Maybe I missed the message myself, but I think ‘maybe’ what Kevin was / is trying to say is that we need to be aware of the fact that it isn’t so much what we say as how we say it. We all want to say we are Open and Welcoming, and Accepting, but are we really? Do we really show the signs of that or is there really some fine print at the bottom that suggest otherwise?

  2. Could this be our next Diocese/Deanery/Clerical study topic? Do we have the courage to admit our brokeness as the Body of Christ so that it can be opened up and healed. This sign may be the invitation to walk through a door that truly leads to meeting the Risen Jesus with us!

  3. Margo also asks a valid question, “Why are we all so easily offended”? I hate to say that I believe that it is because we all (at least at times) feel we are the most important person on the planet and how dare anyone slow us down or get in our way. Maybe I’ve missed the point and before I go off on a tangent, maybe we all just need to do as the Queen suggests and Remain Calm & Cary On. Anyhow…
    As for the question Kevin posed; I would have to say that the sign he references probably is just worded poorly, and to be honest, if I would have done as Kevin did and gone in; after all I’ve been to Church, I know how to behave, I know the service, and …… BUT WHAT IF I HADN’T? We know how to act at the Symphony and on a golf course because we’ve been there. BUT WHAT IF WE NEVER HAVE?
    Maybe, I am missing Kevin’s point as well, but what does that particular sign (or the many Kevin mentions) say to someone who has never been to church, to the person who is searching for something, looking for help, is finally turning to God out of desperation, despair, hoping for comfort?
    I grew up in a particular Religion and as I became an adult, I started to see the some of the signs Kevin talked about, and it drove me away from what I thought was the church; it wasn’t until many years later that I finally saw the welcome sign again and figured out what “The Church” really is. It wasn’t until my wife and I stepped into a little Anglican Church near Lake St Clair that I finally saw the signs I needed to see. We were welcomed as long lost family, we were made to feel at home, so much so that in very short order I became a Warden (An office I NEVER thought I would want or hold, given where I came from) My family now lives in Fergus, ON and it broke our hearts to have to leave and begin church shopping again. The trouble is, now we know how to read the signs, and we visited several different churches of different religions looking for the welcome sign again. We now attend service in Guelph were we saw the Welcome Sign, where my family was made to feel a part of “The Church” and where we ourselves feel comfortable and hopefully display the Welcome Sign ourselves; never knowing who may be there with us looking for the same things I was.
    There are at least a couple songs about signs, but the message is basically the same, there is what the sign(s) physically say and more importantly how they say it. We may say Welcome and put on a Happy Face, but what are we really saying? We need to make sure that what we say, type, and text is clear and what we want to say, keeping in mind that what they imply or how they are interpreted can be significantly different.
    Maybe I missed the message myself, but I think ‘maybe’ what Kevin was / is trying to say is that we need to be aware of the fact that it isn’t so much what we say as how we say it. We all want to say we are Open and Welcoming, and Accepting, but are we really? Do we really show the signs of that or is there really some fine print at the bottom that suggest otherwise?

    1. I can’t help thinking of that old saying: “When in Rome, do as the Romans”. Are we that obtuse these days that we can’t figure it out?

      1. I found this all very interesting. John and I have often discussed our ideas pertaining to “why do people go to church and why do they stop coming.” John believes people stop coming to church because “they are not getting anything out of it.” I think that we fail to make people feel wanted. It has to be more than a perfunctory hello and then move on. When I came to St. Mark’s for the first time, I was pretty motivated to want to become part of the parish. I remember the people who reached out to me: Kate gathered me up and sat with me at coffee hour and Nicki and Barb spoke to me. I like when the priest circulates and speaks to everyone instead of just gravitating to his favourite friends. Bev invited me to sing in the choir. Jack has a wonderful way of engaging people in warm conversation. I have found everyone at St. Mark’s to be verty friendly and welcoming. Bob picks up on anyone’s desire to read or cantor. As Dave Goetz indicated, he found a welcome and was encouraged to take up leadership as a warden. I think we need to keep trying to reach out to people who used to attend the church and have not been seen for weeks or months. WHY did they leave? I know there are people who have not been seen and hear scuttlebut that they had little personal grievances with this one or that one or didn’t like one thing the minister said etc. I believe in taking issues to the source and ironing them out. Little by little, this is how the body fritters away. It is not just the first “sign” or unwelcome that puts people off and probably we can’t manage to satisfy everyone’s little slighted beefs.
        We are experiencing something at the church we attend while in Az. which relates to what happens when a minister retires or moves on to another parish. The interim minister here is fantastic, but many parishioners are evidently staying away ‘until the new minister arrives’ and they are missing out on wonderful worship and ecucational and social activities. The treasury is lacking too and let’s face it, it takes money to keep a church sharing its programs. Rather than continue to sing to the choir (those in the pews) about the drop in attendance and the need to beef up one’s monetary pledge, I think that the church should go to the absent members and ask how they are, tell them that they have been missed (if this is sincere) and definitely not put out talks on money. I like that St. Mark’s has never emphasized money in this way because it does turn people off. A young couple friends of mine went to Stl Andrew’s and the first thingt hey got hit with was “automatic debit donations” to the church—over and over. Evidently they were not made to feel very important or needed otherwise. As many know, I am no shrinking violet so would be unlikely to be deterred from joining a worship service by a sign posted in front. But that is just me and no doubt I am not typical. Certainly a good topic of discussion for the clergy as Rob Henderson indicated.

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