The “preliminaries” are, for the most part, the time in which people in church examine their neighbors’ clothes. Milliners and tailors get the advantage of the first three-quarters of an hour. The “preliminaries” are the time to scrutinize the fresco, and look round to see who is there, and get yourself generally fixed.
This idea is fostered by home elocutionary professors who would have the minister take the earlier exercises of the occasion to get his voice in tune. You must not speak out at first. It is to be a private interview between you and heaven. The people will listen to the low grumble, and think it must be very good if they could only hear it. As for ourselves, we refuse to put down our head in public prayer until we find out whether or not we are going to be able to hear. Though you preach like an angel, you will not say anything more important than that letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, or that Psalm of David which you have just now read to the backs of the heads of the congregation. Laymen and ministers, speak out! The opening exercises were not instituted to clear your voice, but to save souls. If need be, squeeze a lemon and eat “Brown’s troches” for the sake of your voice before you go to church; but once there, make your first sentence resonant and mighty for God. An hour and a half is short time anyhow to get five hundred or five thousand people ready for heaven. It is thought classic and elegant to have a delicate utterance, and that loud tones are vulgar. But we never heard of people being converted by anything they could not hear. It is said that on the Mount of Olives Christ opened His mouth and taught them, by which we conclude He spake out distinctly. God has given most Christians plenty of lungs, but they are too lazy to use them. There are in the churches old people hard of hearing who, if the exercises be not clear and emphatic, get no advantage save that of looking at the blessed minister.
People say in apology for their inaudible tones: “It is not the thunder that kills, but the lightning.” True enough; but I think that God thinks well of the thunder or He would not use so much of it. First of all, make the people hear the prayer and the chapter. If you want to hold up at all, let it be on the sermon and the notices. Let the pulpit and all the pews feel that there are no “preliminaries.”
Masculine and feminine.
There are men who suppose they have all the annoyances. They say it is the store that ruffles the disposition; but if they could only stay at home as do their wives, and sisters, and daughters, they would be, all the time, sweet and fair as a white pond lily. Let some of the masculine lecturers on placidity of temper try for one week the cares of the household and the family. Let the man sleep with a baby on one arm all night, and one ear open to the children with the