Posture in Prayer, and Pulpit Decorum.—The discussion turned to the consideration of another phase of the cause and remedy for irreverence in churches, namely, the confusion which arises through lack of uniform practice in the posture in prayer. A few pointed facts as to carelessness in pulpit decorum were also referred to as having a tendency to weaken the worthy standard of reverence which the laity should be urged to maintain.
E.K. Slade (Atlantic Union): The confusion which we see in our churches during the prayer season is to be deplored. This is largely due to the fact that we do not have a uniform practice as to the proper attitude in prayer. In the congregation this is apparent by the fact that some people sit in their seats and bow the head, while others kneel, some kneeling with face toward the pulpit, and others turning their backs to the pulpit and bowing over the seat. I think we should decide just what is considered the most appropriate attitude for our people to assume in prayer, and that the preacher or the pastor in charge of the service should clearly indicate what the people are expected to do. And when the ministers in the desk do not all follow the same plan,—some kneeling with face to the audience, and others kneeling with back to the audience,—it does not make the best impression.
It has been a matter of regret to me when, in a large camp meeting, I have seen fifteen or twenty ministers step up on the platform and all turn their backs to the congregation and kneel down to pray. This is a matter to which considerable thought has been given in our field, and the plan which is quite generally practiced at the present time is for the minister to kneel toward the desk, with his face to the congregation.
G.W. Wells (General Field Secretary): I am quite agreeable to the plan of ministers' kneeling toward the audience while engaged in general prayer; but when the minister bows in silent prayer as he enters the pulpit, he is communing with the Lord alone, and at such a time I think it is much better not to face the audience. During the brief period of prayer on entering the pulpit, the congregation should bow the head while the minister is in silent prayer. For the minister to face the audience at such a time is inappropriate and causes embarrassment, according to the way I view the matter.
W.A. Spicer (President, General Conference): In each church I visit, I endeavor to find out what custom is followed in the order of service, so that I can comply with the custom and not appear out of order. Personally, I prefer to kneel facing the audience in the public prayer; and where a long line of ministers go into the pulpit together, it might be all right to kneel facing the audience at the time of silent prayer. But where just one minister, or perhaps two, enter the pulpit, it does not seem the proper thing to bow in silent prayer with face toward the congregation. So as a general rule, I would prefer, for the silent prayer, to get down out of sight, and for the audible prayer to kneel in the presence of the congregation and lead them in prayer.
H. A. Lukens (British Columbia): There is one advantage when all the people bow toward the pulpit, and that is that whether kneeling or sitting in the seats, all are facing the one who is praying, and there is not that appearance of turning one's back to the one who is leading in prayer. It is certainly desirable to have a uniform practice in our churches.
H.N. Williams (Newfoundland) : I heard Elder S. N. Haskell and his wife give a Bible study on prayer, in connection with which they both demonstrated the plan of kneeling in prayer facing the rostrum. This seemed strange to me, as a lad at that time, but I remember I slipped into the church after the service was over and tried the plan myself; and right then and there I made the resolve that if ever I were a minister I would try to get the people to do that way.
In every church with which I have been connected during the past few years, I have put the proposition before the people and asked them to try the plan of kneeling with face toward the pulpit for six weeks; and in every instance the decision has been to continue this plan. It is awkward for a person to stand up, turn around, and then kneel down. But to slip from the seat onto one's knees, bowing the head toward the rostrum, is graceful and requires the least exertion. The aged and the infirm are in nearly every congregation, and such find it impossible to kneel; but by following this plan, whether bowing the head or kneeling, the attitude is uniform.
There is one matter which I wish to mention in this connection, and that is the attitude which some ministers exhibit while sitting on the rostrum during service. It is nothing less than disgraceful to see a minister slouch down in his chair, or sit with one leg crossed over the knee of the other, while in the pulpit; and when in addition, he whispers to the minister sitting beside him as his brother minister is preaching to the people, how can it be expected that the young people will overlook such things when they are urged to show proper reverence for the house of God?
L. K. Dickson: Seventh-day Adventists have the habit of taking more preachers onto the rostrum than any other denomination. At camp-meeting time, especially, there are often fifteen or twenty ministers on the platform. The question has arisen in my mind as to whether that is always necessary.
J.L. McElhany: Perhaps it is because we recognize that the place of the ministering priest is at the altar. I do not like to go into the pulpit alone; I want the support of my ministering brethren. I was once asked to fill the pulpit of a Methodist minister, during a brief absence, and it was a new experience for me to find myself standing alone before the people. I missed the assurance and the strength and confidence which comes by having my brother ministers in the pulpit with me.
After this full and free discussion, a committee was appointed to embody the major points developed by the study of the problem into a series of resolutions, which were later adopted by the Council. (See Review and Herald, Nov. 14, 1929, pp. 13, 14.) It is hoped that these important counsels may be taken seriously to heart by every North American worker, for each has an integral responsibility, and general improvements can be wrought only by united endeavor.