Of late, we've noticed a new trend on church signboards and websites; some now indicate the time at which a service begins and the time at which it ends. A few examples: 'Most of the time the service lasts about 57 minutes'. 'Our service lasts 75 minutes'; 'Our worship takes about 40 minutes'. Others have firm start and stop times.
It is understandable that people should like to know when they'll be able to breakfast after communion or join friends for brunch. Others are keen to use what remains of Sunday to get on with some form of recreation: walking in the park or on the beach, finishing or starting a livre du jour, helping children with an essay due soon, or taking part in one of that most hallowed Sunday custom, the early afternoon post-church-and-paper nap. A clue about when a service will finish, as well as when it will start, can be undeniably helpful.
And yet we prefer to see just the starting times of services on signboards and websites. The time we give to Divine Worship is too important to be circumscribed by calculations after the manner of railway departures and arrivals. In this all-too-human world, a sermon inevitably goes longer or shorter than planned; a hymn takes longer to sing than one thought; a baby wails to the point of delaying a baptism for several minutes. The variables in worship are at least as great as those in automobile traffic.
For our part, we're unable to treat time spent in bookshops, museums, churchyards, or fleamarkets as anything but open-ended. In what Kathleen Norris has called 'quotidian mysteries', we enter a kind of supra-chronological time that can't be measured — much less planned — on a clock. This richly textured, expanding, refreshing time is magnified in worship beyond even the loveliness of occasions outside church walls when we browse and meander without recourse to our watches.
What do you think? Is it good or bad to post service lengths? I for one think it's helpful to give first-time guests an idea of what they're in for. That said, I have little patience when people complain that "church was five minutes too long."