Clapping Hands

Earlier this year, there was a rather special service at St Mary’s, at which a number of journalists were present. After the end of the celebration,  I went over to talk to the journalists to give them some quotes for their pieces for the next day. The first thing that I was asked was, “Well Reverend, do you often have people clapping in church at the end of the service?”

I took a deep breath, thought about the quotes that I was hoping they would print and said, “Well, yes we do actually, now let me tell you why I invited Bishop Gene to come to Glasgow….”

It was the prolonged applause which quite a few of the papers focussed on in their reporting including that of  the Herald. (It can also be heard as part of this video of proceedings).

I’ve been talking to some of the musicians in St Mary’s about applause after services. When I came here, applause rang out occasionally in recognition of some particularly bravura organ voluntary or some special event like when +Gene joined us. However, recently, the applause thing seems to have developed a life of its own. Indeed, it seems that the sound of clapping can be heard in our land whether it is appropriate or not.

Thus,  in consultation with the Director of Music, I’ve decided to put the following notice in the service sheets on Sunday. After all, riotous applause is not the only way of showing our gratitude at what is often a carefully chosen, thoughtfully played and prayerful punctuation mark to end our liturgy and send us out into the world.

The Provost and musicians are grateful for the appreciation of the music in St Mary’s and are aware of the affection which is felt towards the musicians. As a measure of this affection, they would prefer the congregation to applaud after services only when people feel they cannot help themselves!


  1. I’d be tempted to add:

    ‘and not in Advent or Lent, when we listen carefully for the angels’ applause instead.’

    • Ah, the Diocese of Dunoon speaks. I fear that were I to add such a comment, I would end up with a situation thought I wanted them to always applaud unless it was Advent or Lent.

      I chose my words carefully.

      It is perhaps worth saying that in the religious upbringing that I received, clapping was an intrinsic part of the worship of almighty God. Indeed, the idea of praise devoid of clapping hands would have been almost unthinkable. Moreover, worshipping the Lord with the drinking of wine was almost a logical impossiblity.

  2. Christian says

    I have not been to many services in the cathedral, especially in the mornings. However, if the congregation at the cathedral enjoys clapping their hands, should not music that will allow for it be part of the service sometimes?

  3. Oh, I think that there is no doubt that there will be lots of exuberant music that will cause the congregation clap their hands in abundance. (Though clapping along during services is unlikely ever to catch on here, I suspect).

    At the moment we have clapping after both the 1030 and the 1830 just about every week, when quite often, some people amongst us would like quiet prayer.

  4. Kelvin, I never doubted that you chose your words carefully.

    …and I quite see your point.

    I fear that the clapping issue is unresolvable so long as bishops insist on letting congregations clap at ordinations. The memory of it still makes me cringe.
    But do I not remember a video in which you led clapping at a baptism?

  5. Kelvin, the other week after Evensong when there had been a perfectly acceptable yet not particularly flamboyant organ piece to accompany the choir out, there was a brief round of applause, and I said at the time to the person I was with that it seemed to have become an habit rather than a necessarily deserved plaudit.

    I therefore applaud (sorry!) this action on your part.

    Applause where it is deserved for being over and above the normal very high standard of cathedral music, but reverential quietness at other times.

    Well done!

  6. swishy wings and all.

    • I think I would like to assert that there should be clapping at an ordination or a consecration. It is just that the bishops involved tend to encourage it in the wrong place. It should be a requirement before someone is ordained rather than a reward for having got through it in one piece.

      Are not clapping, whooping and hollering a more liturgically appropriate response to the question “Do you the people of God in the diocese trust that N. is truly called by God to be your Bishop?” than the rather effete response from the people: “We do.”

  7. David |Dah • veed| says

    MadPriest feels that you are on the road to consecration Father. Perhaps we should make sure he is present to initiate the whooping and hollering.

  8. David |Dah • veed| says

    swishy wings and all.

    Obviously the nelly angels, my dear Kimberly! Perhaps you meant whispery wings and all.

  9. The tassles on the gold vestments are supposed to represent angel’s wings.

    Short tassles to the front, long tassles to the rear is the rule.

  10. I think it is a wonderful tradition (if it is a tradition at St Mary’s). As an ex-organist I might well have been playing to an empty Church by the time I had finished my long concluding voluntary. (maybe my playing caused them to rush out!)

    If we wish to express an opinion quietly, perhaps we could all be issued with numbered cards when we come into the Cathedral. At the end we then could hold up the cards giving a vote up to ten, and the summated total issued to the organist, and appear the next Sunday in the Service Sheet. These could all be added-up and a report given at the AGM. Should the level be 10% or more under the previous year the the Choirmaster might be sent to the sin-bin for a number of Sundays!

    The other option might be to measure the extent of any ‘Mexican Clap’ which spread from source of the the initial clap!

    Sorry Kelvin…I understand from where you are starting but let’s keep a wonderful tradition, where we applaud not only the performance, but the piece and the composer.

    …..or maybe you are frightened that it might spread to sermons!

  11. David |Dah • veed| says

    I am not familiar with a “Mexican Clap.”

    I am aware of the Mexican clap, but the clap is the clap, regardless of the country, a disease I am proud to have avoided!

  12. Kelvin….how long does a happening or event take before it becomes a tradition?

    David….Have you never seen a Mexican Wave at a football match? There must be the equivalent in Applause!

  13. I suppose one way of recognising that something has become tradition is that people can’t remember things being otherwise.


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