Break the electronic tethers in church

Break the electronic tethers in church

We’re addicted. That’s all I can think. As a society we’re addicted to constant electronic stimulation and connection.

A columnist in today’s Boston Herald writes about people who play video games and talk on cell phones in churches and at cemeteries, and how a Catholic priest in Braintree, Mass., has had to put up signs telling people to turn them off.

At a family First Communion I attended a few weeks ago, a little boy, dressed in his Sunday best, sat in a nearby church pew playing a portable video game.

His head was bent and his focus was fiercely on the game (the volume, thankfully, was turned off) as he sat beside his perfectly coifed mother, who was unfazed — as if the pair were at home on the living room couch.


At St. Francis of Assisi in Braintree, the Rev. Kevin Sepe has posted signs at church entryways, reminding parishioners to silence their cell phones and pagers.

“Even with that, it becomes problematic at funerals and weddings and First Communions when you have a lot of visitors,” Sepe said. “We’ve had cases where folks have come in and actually carried on a telephone conversation in church and thinking nothing of it.”

Sepe knows one priest who refused Communion to someone who was talking on a cell phone in the Communion line. “He said, ‘Either shut the phone off or you’re not getting Communion.’”

A few years ago in my own parish, at Christmas Eve, I was seated behind a woman and her husband and one of her children. I say “one” because she was on the phone several times during Mass with the babysitter giving her instructions, chatting away as if she were at the mall.

I’ve had an occasion once or twice to have my cell phone ringing during Mass because I forgot to turn it off or put it on vibrate, but now that I think about it, why do I even need it in church? Why can’t I leave it in the car? Am I that attached to the thing that I can’t leave it for one hour?

We’re a culture that has grown electronic tethers that we can’t break at home with our families, on the weekends, on vacations, or even at church, including even weddings and funerals.

In Europe, many places—not just churches but even restaurants and theaters—now have cell phone jammers in order to keep the peace and quiet. Alas, they’re illegal in the US. Maybe we need to ask the FCC to loosen the restrictions so we can have some havens of peace and quiet.

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  • I carry my cell phone into Church and don’t leave it in the car because one morning at Mass a woman passed out and it saved me a lot of time in calling 911. 

    Last year, the man sitting next to me at the ordination in Boston was talking on his phone for about 15 minutes during Mass during the sign of peace (which takes 30 minutes at an ordination, as every priest embraces the newly ordained)…

  • In Dallas, where I’m from, there used to be the problem of people’s phones ringing every once in a while, but most folks seemed to be pretty good about turning off or muting their phones before Mass started. Like me, they were probably afraid of the embarrassment! However, I never saw anyone actually talking on the phone while in church – not that it’s never happened, I’m sure.

    Here in Edmonton, I’ve *never* heard a cell phone ring. I guess the people who bother to come to church take enough trouble to turn their phones off.

  • Cell phone jamming may be illegal in the US. But I saw something last night on the Food Network that might be even better.

    They had a profile of a restaurant that has an alarm at the door that goes off if you are on a call with your cell phone when you walk in…

    There is a sign on the door warning patrons…

  • I’ve been reading this blog for over two years now, but I don’t think I’ve ever commented…but this one is just too funny!  I went to a talk at our parish with Patrick Madrid, and I forgot to turn my cell phone to vibrate (I always bring it with me in case of emergencies, either at church or at home with my kids)

    Anyway, of course I was sitting in the front row, and the darn thing rings…Patrick Madrid looks right at me and says “I sure hope that’s God or the Pope!”  Needless to say, I shut the thing off as quickly as I could and sat red-faced until the break!  He was gracious in accepting my apology, though…

  • True story: a few years ago, at my old parish in Malden, the priest was mid-homily when some teenager’s phone went off. He and his mother were sitting in the third or fourth row. Anyway, cell phone rings a couple of times and the kid answers it…and starts chatting away. His mother? She doesn’t even bat an eyelash, let alone tell her offspring to close the phone, turn the ringer off, put it away, and pay attention to the homily.

    After about 15 seconds of this nonsense, the priest sweeps down the aisle, grabs the kids phone, closes it, goes back up to the podium, and carries on with his homily.

    You could tell the mom and the kid were REALLY ticked off at the priest (can we say ‘clueless rude people’, boys and girls?), but everyone else was pretty much grinning ear to ear.

    Me, I always take my cell phone. But it’s always set to silent or turned off before I enter the church.

  • At our parish, an announcement is made by the cantor at the beginning of every Mass, but there are still people who ignore the warning and leave their cell phones on (even me, once, at Midnight Mass – I had my cell phone because I was on call for work, but I didn’t even think about turning it off because I was hardly expecting a call at 12:45 on Christmas morning – fortunately the volume was low enough that only I and the person next to me heard it). 

    Once a cellphone went off during the Consecration and our then-pastor got so red in the face that we all thought he was going to explode.  He actually stopped Mass for a couple of minutes so he could calm down.

    And at a funeral I was playing at, Father was in the middle of the homily when someone’s cell phone went off – twice (they didn’t get the hint to shut it off after the first time) and playing calypso music.  I felt so bad for the grieving family that someone had been so thoughtless not once, but twice, as the wife was burying her husband of 50 years.

  • Lori, that reminds me of a comment our then-pastor made the week after the Consecration incident.  He said something to the effect that unless it’s God on the phone, there is no need to hold conversations on cell phones during Mass and that if you’re someone who must have the phone on (set to vibrate, of course) for professional reasons, then take it out into the narthex if your phone rings during Mass.

  • I was one of the lectors at our Easter Vigil this year.  I was leadoff batsman, so I had the Genesis Ch. 1 reading.

    In the middle of a very darkened church, in the middle of me saying how God created the heavens and the earth—a cellphone went off.

    Gosh, I just wanted to do the (ancient Greek) god thing and chuck thunderbolts at the guy.  Instead, I just gave a look that, in the words of Monty Python, “if looks could have killed, [he] would have been in for three hundred years!”  My pastor had a direct view of me—he says I gave a good stare.

    I virtually never take my cellphone to church.

  • Yes, why can’t the cell phone be left in the car for just an hour?

    On a regular basis,I see people during Mass checking their messages. I saw one of Eucharistic Ministers do it during communion!  Ugh.

    I also saw someone take a call while in line to receive communion…“I’m in church…I’ll call you back in 10 minutes.”

    Are all of these calls and messages so so so very important? How did mankind survive so long without be electronically attached 24/7?

    I for one am sick of the cell phone culture and only carry mine when I go out of town on business. Most of the time it sits in our kitchen cabinet and when people, even business associates, ask for my cell phone number I tell them I do not have one.

    We got rid of our TV about two years ago and really don’t miss it (well, I miss seeing some sports, but have to make do with listening on the radio).

  • Forget cell phones!  Here the real disturbance at Sunday Mass:  whole families coming in the door of the chapel during the homily!!!  I’m sorry.  String me up if you want.  If you can’t get to Mass before midway through the homily, go to a later Mass.  I was barely able to hold my tongue this morning when eight or nine members of a family come casually through the hospital chapel door several paragraphs into my homily.  I paused ever so slightly and seriously pondered several really scathing remarks and then counted to five and continued.  What’s really galling to me is that this particular Mass is already pretty much an “in and out quickie” for a rather select group of folks.  To come strolling in twenty minutes late is nearly unforgivable!  And I don’t wanna hear any lame %$#@ excuses about traffic, blahblahblah.  I get there every Sunday, without fail, twenty minutes early. 

    Bottomline:  if Mass is important to you, you get there early.  Period.

    Fr. Philip, OP

    P.S.  Any guesses out there about why I’m not a pastor!?  LOL…

  • There are many churches that have now put up signs asking for cell phone users to have a modicum of decency and control their electronic masters. The busy Carmelite Shopping Center Chapel in our area now has such signs.
      From comments people make on this issue, it is clear some are embarrassed, but don’t really take it very seriously. They treat it as almost humoropus.
      Years ago people were not afraid to use public ridicule when some were being rude, insensitive, callous, or witless. But nowadays we are all supposed to be oh so polite and never let any kind of ridicule or sharp criticism pass our lips. But maybe the only way to bring civility back to places where noise interruptions should be unthinkable and NOT TOLERATED is to start describing cell phone users who won’t control their noisy pets with the ridicule, insult and all around derision they deserve. Such societal opprobrium has certainly worked to drive smokers from the public scene.
      I say this as a deacon who regularly assists at an average of two funerals a week and am darned well fed up with the almost regular rude and callous disruptions at almost every funeral lately.
      Recently, one phone went off at a funeral and the phone’s owner couldn’t figure out how to stop the noise. Finally, one of the undertakers got up, grabbed the phone from its owner, and marched it out of the church. I don’t know what he did with it. I hope he smashed it into little pieces.

  • Sadly, Jammers are illegal in UK too.

    It is a sad indictment of such persons, and of our society also, that people feel the need to glue cell phones to their ears, and play elctronic games during Mass. No appreciation of the present moment, nor of the Glory of the Lord.

    One is often amused to see people constantly checking their cell phones, flipping through their address lists, looking at the mail box, eyes down, distracted and bored as if the answer to anything and everything was to be found within the plastic and electronics of a cell phone.

    O sadly deluded people.

  • However annoying cell phones may be, I carry one for exactly one reason.  So my kids can reach me in an emergency.  They are old enough to leave alone (with one exception), but not so old they can handle anything they may encounter.  So leaving the cell phone in the car, if they are not with me (as at daily Mass when I go by myself) is not an option.

    Last week I was giving a talk to a group of parents when the cell phone went off.  I told them that I know why they have the cell phone, and they laughed, but it relaxed the atmosphere.  The blessing of the cell phone is that when we want parents to be able to attend educational functions during the adolescence of their children (ages 10-18), we need to be tolerant of cell phone usage.

    But your post has reminded me to get better at changing to a vibrate function and back.

  • DPT – I can’t speak for anyone else, but—I don’t have a car in which to leave a cell phone during Mass. I walk the half mile to Mass, and then frequently walk (or take the train) somewhere else afterwards, like to lunch with friends, or into town to walk through the Public Garden, etc. Since I don’t always know from the outset whether or not I will need a taxi later in the day, or if I will need better directions to wherever I might be meeting someone for lunch, the cell phone goes with me to Mass.

    However: I seriously do not understand why it is SO hard for people to get in a habit of switching the thing off for an hour. Most people I know use my home phone, not my cell, so there is little danger of mine going off during Mass even if I forgot to turn it off….but I simply make it a habit to turn it off. When I grab my offering envelope and head out the door of my apartment, I also turn off the phone. The one reminds me to do the other. Simple. Effective.

    Father: Totally with you on the people who come in mid-homily. Most people wouldn’t barge into a movie that late, so why be rude and do it at church?

  • Ahh, the cell phone….the world’s longest umbilical cord. 

    Fr. Philip,

    I do hope the last moments of your homily were spent teaching the latecomers that they are not to receive Communion if they’re not present for the liturgy of the word.

  • One time at a Sunday Mass, the young woman behind me took out her phone and placed a call.  I turned around and said “You’ve got to be kidding me.  This is Sunday Mass, you don’t make a cell phone call!!”  It turns out she was calling someone in the back of the church, asking them to move up so they could sit together.  This is why I try to get to the 7:45 a.m. Mass…less distractions.

  • On Saturday, I went to my Godson’s 1st communion. In the middle of Mass, a cell phone nearby went off. I leave mine in the car during Mass, so I knew it wasn’t mine, and I was annoyed. All of a sudden, my wife realized it was hers in her purse – nobody has that number except me, so she didn’t think to turn it off. Unfortunately, it was a wrong number. Oops. Guess she’ll leave it at home when going to Mass from now on.

    Frankly, the whole “need it with me at all times in case of an emergency” rings hollow to me. What did people do just 10 years ago? If I remember correctly, there wasn’t mass chaos because people didn’t always have cell phones with them.

  • It’s interesting that a big ruckus is made over cell phones ( and justifiably so), while no one seems to object to the frequent squalls of babies and disruptive behavior of young children. And please don’t get me wrong – I love little babies and toddlers, but there is no reason why parents can’t remove them when they start to get out of hand. Too many times, I have found Mass almost a lost cause because of the disruption.  This is simply a matter of common courtesy.  And by the way, when I was in a Methodist church for 14 years, the members seemed much more aware of proper behavior during church, i.e. cell phones were rarely heard, and crying babies promptly removed.

  • “It turns out she was calling someone in the back of the church, asking them to move up so they could sit together.”

    Why didn’t she just ask someone to save her seat and then go back and get her friend?

    I had a roommate in college that would call me from her bedroom to ask me to make sure the door was locked.

  • “Frankly, the whole “need it with me at all times in case of an emergency” rings hollow to me. “

    I agree.

    If it’s a real emergency, they should be calling 9-1-1 instead of Mom’s cell phone.

  • A boy in my son’s CCD class recieved a cell phone as a gift for his First Communion.  Yes, he is in second grade.

  • You know, folks, ten years ago (actually, for me, two years ago)—before cell phones—I was a lot less comfortable leaving kids.  It’s not the 9-1-1 calls I was worried about, it was the fights between my oldest two kids.  Rare but real.  And with a husband who travels for work (and who used to have to stay overnight at work regularly), there are some meetings that I can’t miss—because one parent is expected to be there.  More so for single/divorced/military mothers.  The solution used to be a babysitter ($$$$ in my area if you have >1 kid) or missing mandatory meetings… which caused problems of its own (think parent meetings for First Eucharist).  And, for two-parent families, a lot less involvement of dads or moms, depending on the situation.  Maybe it was simpler in some ways, but it wasn’t necessarily better. 

    Obviously, I didn’t go to daily Mass by myself, which meant that largely I didn’t go, out of consideration for the people who didn’t want little kids disrupting daily Mass in even the most minor ways.  Now I have that option, and it improves everybody’s life in our family, not just mine, when I do go.

    But leave the cell phone behind?  Not happening.  Vibrate does seem like a reasonable solution, coupled with a quiet departure to answer the phone.  And it is like having a likely-to-disrupt toddler—sitting in the back where departure is not disruptive is also important.

  • Cell phones are pretty much like everything else.  They can be used well or poorly.  While annoyed when I hear someone else’s phone go off in a restaurant, Church, etc it irritates me but I understand if they just go ahead and turn it off; we all forget sometimes.  But the people who have the audacity to pick it up and YACK YACK YACK, right there.  Have these people ever heard of stepping out or just rejecting the call?

    If there are any priests out there you might consider giving a sermon on respect in church, because its needed.  Don’t just assume people know it as some grow up with out being taught (such as the teenager whose mother just sat by the phone).

  • Ann,

    I agree with you.  Some noise from children is unavoidable and everyone understands but why let your kid scream for the whole church to here. MOVE TO THE BACK!!!! One time my mother got in a verbal battle (a civil one from my mother’s side) with a mother who’s 6 year was talking loudly (and somewhat obscenely), kicking our pews, and fighting with his brother.  Now a kid this age should be able to behave in school, why not church?  And he doesn’t in school, these parents and the school are obviously not doing their jobs.

  • We have a sign up that asks people not to bring cell phones in the chapel and our pastor has been warning that he would make a public admonition from the pulpit. So fast forward to May 6, 2007 and someone’s cell phone started going off right before the Ecce Agnus Dei. I suspect the owner of the cell phone didn’t want to embarrass him- or herself by answering it or reaching into a bag to turn it off, because it rang 7 or 8 times, and Fr. stood there at the altar, motionless and silent, for the duration. I think it was even more effective than a public admonishment.

  • Nothing makes me see red like the sound of a cell phone going off at Mass.

    I’m proud to say that at 25 years of age I have never had a cell phone.  And by the grace of God, I’m still a normally functioning human being.  Wonder of wonders.

    Maybe I’ll present my pastor with a gift of a massive poster with a cell phone in a a red circle and dash with St. Pius X next to it warning all who enter to “Turn off those abominations of modernism.”

  • During the Good Friday Liturgy this year at the cathedral in Colorado Springs, Bishop Sheridan was leading the reading of the Passion when they got to moment where Christ died. Everyone kneels and the church goes completely silent. Of course, a cell phone goes off at that moment. This is just one of many times for me during liturgies where a cell phone has just killed all sacredness of the moment.

    Most churches in our diocese have signs that tell you to turn off your phone, but it seems people are already desensitized to that. Nothing short of cell phone jammers will solve this. I didn’t know they were illegal. Are we sure about that?

  • But if a priest were to hide one away in his church, who would ever know?

    And I’m sure the public support would be overwhelmingly in his favor if the civil authorities went after him for it.

  • I realize most of these posts are about Mass and this is so far down no one may read this, but I had read it earlier today and was thinking about it when I joined some co-workers in a car.

    We were taking one of the girls out to lunch as it was her last day. This very girl proceeds to climb in the car with us chatting on the phone all the way to the restaurant while the other 4 of us sat quietly while she conducted her business. The phone came out again as we were all at lunch and she took a call that clearly could not wait.

    Now, I’m too young to say this, but I wondered if her age had anything to do with it-no recognition that the rest of us were present and the rudeness of her behavior.

    Ironically, we had really really poor service at the restaurant and this same girl complained the loudest.

  • Best response to cell phones I have ever heard was published in, I believe, Leadership Journal.

    In a Lutheran church, the priest was preaching. A cell phone went off and the parishioner began to talk on it. The preacher stopped his homily, walked over to the parishioner and looked at him. Of course, the whole church was watching him at the time. The parishioner looked up to the preacher who just said to the parishioner, “That is ok. Finish your conversation; we will wait.”

    From what I understand, it never happened in that church again.

  • Here (at least, in London) it is becoming quite common to see posters stuck up in banks and post offices now – please stop talking on your mobile phone before you come to the counter.

    It is just plain rude to Yak! Yak! Yak! while also trying to speak to the clerk, cash a cheque, buy a stamp, or pay a train fare. Also, for those of us stuck behind these morons in the queue, it slows the service down because the yakkers only have (at most) half their mind on the task in hand and can’t hear what the clerk is asking them.