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Should a clergyman have interrupted a civic dignitary who was joining in with a hymn, in order to say private words of welcome? Or should he have waited until the hymn was over?
He should have waited until the hymn was over. Hymns are (or should be) chosen to reflect the theme of the service, and are a part of worship. Some hymns mean a great deal to particular individuals, and to have the singing interrupted for any reason is annoying.
I understand why latecomers wait for music to mask the sound of their entrance, but the hymns are not a cover for whispered conversations or, as in this case, private words of welcome. The sharing of the Peace should not continue once the offertory hymn has begun, for the same reason.
If the singing of the hymns could be seen in the same light as the prayers, maybe their singing would be treated with more respect by all concerned.
(The Revd) Elizabeth Jackson
If the dignitary was present by prior arrangement, words of welcome that might be heard by all the congregation should have been prearranged. If the dignitary was present unexpectedly and recognised by the cleric during the singing of a hymn, there would be no harm in going to speak with him or her unobtrusively to ascertain if he or she wished to be publicly welcomed at its end.
Undue fawning at the presence of important people is contrary to scripture (James 2.2-4). But this is a matter of taste, not rules.
Christopher Haffner (Reader)
East Molesey, Surrey
Address for answers and more questions: Out of the Question, Church Times, 13-17 Long Lane, London EC1A 9PN.