Correct Behavior in Church, The Journal of Charles Woodmason

Image: United First Parish Church. Parris, Alexander. (c. 1851-1854) Wikimedia Commons.,_Quincy,_MA.jpg

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Always contrive to come before service begins — Which you may do, as we begin so late. ’Tis but putting and getting thins in order over night, whereas many will hardly set about it till Sunday morning. Contrive too, to go as early as possible to rest on Saturday night so that you may rise early and refreshed on the Lord’s day and not be hurried in dressing, and ordering matters. The coming late to sermon discourages people, for lack of company and coming in after service is begun is very troublesome — Disturb both me and every one and should be avoided as much as possible, but if it is unavoidable, pray enter leisurely — tread softly — nor disturb any who are on their knees or are intent on their devotions. Bring no dogs with you, they are very troublesome and I shall inform the magistrate of those who do it, for it is an affront to the divine presence which we invoke, to be in the midst of us, and to hear our prayers, to mix unclean things with our services.

When you are seated, do not whisper, talk, gaze about — shew light airs, or behavior, for this argues a wandering mind and irreverence towards God; is unbecoming religion, and may give scandal and offense to weak Christians: neither sneeze or cough, if you can avoid it — and do not practice that unseemly, rude, indecent custom of chewing or of spitting, which is very ridiculous and absurd in public, especially in women and in God’s house. If you are thirsty, pray drink before you enter or before service begins, not to go out in midst of prayer, nor be running too and from like Jews in their Synagogues — except your necessary occasions should oblige you — Do you see anything like it in Charles Town or among well bred people. Keep your children as quiet as possible, If they will be fractious, carry them out at once for I will not have divine worship now considered by you, as if I was officiating in a private house.

Those among you who have not the tunes we do now, or shall sing, and are desirous of them, I will write them out for…. Many among you possibly prefer extempore sermons, to those which are premeditated, and may call my mode of delivery, rather Reading than Preaching. ’Tis true, extempore discourses have their peculiar merit — but there is hardly one man in the world, but will speak better and more useful sense, premeditatedly than extempore.

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