The North American Review/Volume 1/Hours of Worship
There are some points of practice in religious worship, nearly similar in all the states of the Union, so far as my experience extends, and which it has been sometimes thought might be altered advantageously. As the slightest innovation in these concerns, is apt to startle even the strongest minds, I hope that the following suggestions may be candidly appreciated, and shewn to be expedient or otherwise, after mature consideration. The first alteration I would propose, is in the hours of worship in the afternoon. It would be better that this service should commence at a later hour. The common time of dining in most of our cities, is between two and three o’clock. On Sunday the dinner is served one or two hours sooner. The moment after rising from the repast, we repair to church. in summer especially, the lassitude which follows is most unfriendly to devotion, and I have known some individuals, who have absented themselves from the second attendance, rather than incur the risk of violating the solemnity of religious worship, by that feeling of drowsiness and languor from which very few are exempt. The fatigue and effort to a clergyman, who officiates twice after so short an interval, must be greater than it would be, if the second meeting were later in the day, and when in summer the extreme heat had subsided.
In the next place, are two discourses necessary, or, all circumstances considered, advantageous? The introduction of protestantism in abolishing almost all the ceremonies of religion, left a vacuum, which was advantageously filled by moral and doctrinal discourses, to excite and enlighten those who adhered to its tenets. The number of these has varied among different sects, according to their circumstances and character. The general practice, however, for which perhaps no other reason, than custom, can be assigned, has made two sermons requisite in the regular congregations of different protestant sects. Yet if there be not some particular virtue in this number, why is it better than three, which are still delivered in many meetings; or even the practice of the proselyting sects, who operate on their hearers by a mechanical process of exhaustion. Is not delivering two sermons a week, a greater task, than most or even any clergyman can well perform, in addition to other parochial duties? Would not a single discourse, which, it may reasonably be inferred, would be composed with more care and ability, produce more good than is now usually done by two? Does not the multiplicity of sermons, in some measure, weaken their effect?
Allow me then to suggest, for the consideration of the clergy and all reflecting men, whether the time of the second service may not be changed for the better, so that it should become what it was originally intended to be, an evening service; that the middle of the day, so oppressive in summer, should be left to meditation and repose. That the sermon should be delivered in the morning; and the evening service, commencing toward sunset, should have the vacancy of the sermon supplied by larger portions of the Scriptures, and of sacred musick. The hour would be more propitious to devotion, the closing of the day with religious exercises would be more natural and decorous, than the present arrangement, by which, in summer time particularly, the day is most unequally divided, and the services inconveniently crowded together.