Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why do we have two preludes every Sunday?

To understand why Bethany regularly includes two preludes, you need to consider the role or purpose of the prelude. There are at least two different perspectives:

1. The prelude is "background music" that creates an inviting atmosphere as people arrive for worship. In other words, it's okay to pay little attention to it while we take off our coats, greet friends, and scan the bulletin announcements before the service.

2. The prelude should be a time for prayer, reflection, and preparation for worship.

At Bethany, the worship and music committee felt the second philosophy was an important aspect of worship. For that reason, the prelude was played after pastor made the announcements and asked us "To prepare our hearts and minds for worship" during a brief prelude.

However, that created the dual problems of limiting the prelude to pieces of approximately one minute, while also creating an awkward period of silence as congregants arrived. This problem was addressed by creating a pre-prelude. Now, Tom is free to play more substantial pieces from the organ literature as people are arriving, fulfilling the first goal of the prelude. Then, after the announcements, the second prelude provides a transition from the ordinary business of life to the sacred environment of worship.

I don't know of any other church with this unique format, but I've grown to like it a great deal. I particularly like the freedom to program organ literature in the first slot, while reserving the second slot for short pieces that relate to the hymns for the day. I'd love to hear reactions both from members and from others reading about this for the first time.


  1. what a great opportunity as an organist. Not only does the format allow you flexiblity but the church is able to directly address the more spiritual aspect of the prelude. I'ld love to see it at our church but it seems unlikely given our own music leadership.

  2. I think that's a great idea. We don't have that option at my two congregations; our organist happens to be a digital hymnal I've named Ms. Emily. The great thing about her is that she never argues with me about music; the bad thing is that we miss out on preludes and postludes. Now I suppose I could find a way to work around that, but that's more trouble than it's probably worth.

    Instead, I ring the church bell ten minutes before service. I've asked (trained?) my congregation that after the bell rings to please be respectful of those people wishing to pray before service.

    At service time, I make the announcements for the morning, thereby allowing any stragglers not to interrupt the actual worship service. After which I ask for a moment of silence while we prepare ourselves for worship.

  3. I think it's great that you recognize the 2 functions, and even seperate them. An interesting and inviting atmosphere is important, and so is the time to clear one's mind to be receptive to what God has to say. The question about prayer: a conversation with God, but who is doing the talking; is partly answered here