Faith Works 1-30-16
Cell phones and ring tones
I've been putting off writing this one because I honestly don't know what to say.
In my own congregation, there have been many and various conversations on this subject. I attend live performances fairly often around Newark and central Ohio, and am accustomed to the announcement at the outset (and have done it myself at the Midland in years past):
"Please silence or set to vibrate your electronic devices!"
Different churches put it on a screen in the front, print some version of those words in a bulletin or weekly print page, and some places even have signs at the doors.
Yet still they ring.
Except, of course, they don't ring. They chirp and tweet and chime and play tunes, often jarring and intrusive music. The "Sex and the City" theme, super hero music from the movies or TV themes or hip hop anthems. Occasionally classical, but of a "Jupiter" or Wagnerian ilk; often popular and sometimes obscure, but clearly music meant to tell you, your seat mates, and those for fifty feet and more around you "I've got a call coming in."
Then there's the throwback sound of a big black heavy handset dial phone ringer, piercing the silence. That would evoke a smile from me, and from others who recall that clarion call . . . if it weren't during a funeral, a prayer, a time of meditation and devotion.
Or when I'm pausing for effect, to gather attention and make a preaching point. My words stop, I look intently out, a hand softly pressing down to one side, the other rising up and everyone leaning in, anticipating that the preacher is about to say . . .
"Da dadada, de dadada, is all I want to say to you . . ."
Interestingly there are often a half dozen hands scrabbling for pockets and purses and under hymnals or coats or diaper bags. Maybe they all have that ringtone, or perhaps the offending sounds remind them that they may not have remembered to silence theirs.
Except that I'm as accustomed to it happening twice, with two different phones, across the room from each other, as I am to an intruding sound occurring even once. I cannot recall the last funeral I attended or officiated at where there wasn't at least one phone going off; most Sundays during the sermon there's one, but more often on two occasions before we get to the final "Amen."
So I've been asked to make an announcement each service for a month at our church, to see what happens. I resisted, actually, because I listen to directors like Adam and Aara and Russ and others at Weathervane and Licking County Players and the Heisey Wind or high school concerts, all gamely reminding everyone, as an act of courtesy, to turn 'em off . . . and there is still the interruption, the distraction, the break in our collective attention.
In other words, I don't know that it works. My strategy for the last few years has been to ignore it as much as possible, and encourage others to do the same.
I've heard people try to shame and embarrass offending phone owners, but I'm aware that often the shocked scrambler after a worst-time-possible ring is a fine person, a gentle old soul, a quiet pillar of the community. They forgot, even with the announcement. Do I help, or add to the embarrassment, by making a larger point of it?
And there are also some who pretty clearly don't care. They are certain their calls are important, their lives the main priority of the world's operations, and if they have a phone going off in the middle of the Lord's Prayer, they're certain the Lord will understand, and answer the call unruffled. It's baffling, but not unusual.
So what will happen? I don't know, but I'm going to try for the next four weeks to find some creative and hopefully charming ways to tell everyone "your ring tone is none of my business, so don't let it come to our attention for this next hour, please!"
If anyone has found an effective way to deal with this issue, I would truly love to hear about it. But don't call me. Just text or e-mail.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he hasn't had his phone off vibrate-only since he bought it. Tell him your favorite ringtone tale at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.