Empty holy noise from churches is a nuisance and ought to be muted

Congregation with their pastors at a revival. [Getty Images]

With all due respect, I want to state that spiritual houses cannot defend themselves when the sounds coming from them are described as noise. Noise in this case is more than the quality and volume of the sounds. It implies also the value of the sound. If the sounds would be a modern-day re-enactment of the Jericho moment, maybe it would be justified. It would be a sound to be desired. Some would even get entrepreneurial and package the divine frequency decibels for money!

But the sounds Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja wants to mute do not manifest any wall-crashing power. If they have such power, it is hidden from church neighbours. This invisibility of the value of the sound emanating from churches grants a basis for criticism. Some neighbours may not like the Curch in general and would take any opportunity to bash it. But others may be willing to allow the noise if it displayed value. With evidence lacking, sympathetic tendencies dry up. The emptiness in the loudness makes those affected claim their right to peace and tranquility.

For the Church to justify its blaring sounds, it must work on loading them with a contemporary “Jericho effect”. The community would then associate the high volume with a benevolent power that pulls down unpleasant forces, thus infusing a better life in the community.

If the noise was associated with exorcism - with evidence of freed people walking free in the community - the noise would have more advocates and even have a better description such as the “saving noise”.  But lack of a tangible impact exposes these spiritual sounds to attacks that cluster pubs and churches into one noise basket.

Because the kesha sounds have no value to show the community in the morning, it makes perfect sense to restrict the volume to those inside the church. They alone know the value of forfeiting their sleep and enjoining the neighbours to the kesha involuntarily is unfair. To expect distressed neighbours to withstand sounds that are both meaningless and a nuisance simply because they come from a church is abusive.

Worship gatherings can become noise not only to neighbours but even to God. God told the Israelites “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” Their gatherings, though done in the name of God, had lost their divine frequency. They had turned into noise.

Other gains

People can value religious gatherings not for encounters with God but for other gains. This way, a prayer house evolves into a trade square. Could the blaring speakers point to another noise in the church? One of the answers is yes – the noise of inter-church competition. If the speakers are strategically placed, their volume pumped up to attract people with the motive of a selfish gain – that is noisy.

To the extent that one church blasts its speakers to persuade people to come to it and not go to the other down the road, such, however heavenly the voices, is noisy. Any intentional plan to feed church showbiz, razzmatazz and hype is sure noisy. To some pastors, more people mean more money. To others, filled up churches equate to increased popularity. Instead of calling people to come be fed with God’s counsel, they come to be feasted on. Such is the noise behind the noise.

The noise issue has a theological solution. Some churches have made volume so central that even a meeting of 30 people where an unassisted voice can communicate effectively is supplied with a full volume microphone. Such understand loudness as an expression of passion and power. The core of worship is to encounter God. This fact needs to inform all the practices around worship. God can choose to speak directly to hearts and direct them without the high-powered speaker as a “middleman”.

The loudness with which we speak to God should not preoccupy us so much that we forget the loudness with which God speaks to us. We must invest not only in speaking but also in hearing God. The value of communication equipment should never be demeaned. However, an obsession with volume risks driving out critical Christian practices such as silence and meditation.

The noise issue has an identity interrogation solution. Of all institutions, the Church should understand best the value of the neighbour. Just as a church would care about noise from outside affecting audibility inside, it should also care about its sounds negatively impacting the people in its immediate neighbourhood. The entry of a church into a neighbourhood should not provoke bad news as “Ear plug here we come”! It is a shame when churches join the decibels showdown! Instead, neighbourhoods hope the church can be an ally championing for quiet nights. With its resurrection power, there should not be an over-reliance on amps power!  

The noise has an architectural solution. Many church structures today are hastily assembled. From observation, the well-built church buildings are less likely to blare compared to the ones that are simply built. Some have argued that people seeking a church to join tend to trust a well-done building because it is a sign of stability. This makes simpler church buildings seek different ways of attracting people. A screaming speaker draws attention: “We are here!” But to avoid a noise producer identity, churches of all sizes should as a matter of principle include professional consultation on noise levels. This step will keep their members happy while at the same time keeping the noise cops away.

Blaring speakers

The noise has an innovation solution. There are many ways of inviting people to a church meeting than just blaring speakers. The blaring is likely to be a reason why some people will actually not come! You can fill the church without using full-volume speakers. Solving problems in the community – such as using the Church status to lobby the local government for such amenities as garbage collection and water connection - endears the Church to the people. It is practically seen as “God with us”.

Making the Church a centre for life education and dispatching well-trained teams to inform and invite people in the community to the programmes give a personal touch that a high-pitched speaker can never grant. Such and other creative forms position the Church as a value-adding institution. This positioning has a potential to fill up the church without increasing the decibels.

The noise has a self-regulation solution. Sakaja wants residents to sleep at night. That formerly loud beer dens are now quiet should tell the Church that the government is serious in its noise exorcism mission. Churches may think they are untouchable and that their kind of noise is beyond mortal interference. But fact is that to the extent that church sounds have no divine frequency, no angel will be sent to protect unnecessary noise.

To the extent that pastors erect high-volume speakers for selfish reasons,  they are on their own when law enforcers come calling. Wisdom dictates that churches should not wait until Sakaja boys knock on their sanctuary doors to knock down dedicated equipment. Before Brother Sakaja teleports into Governor Sakaja, churches should make moves  to spare themselves the wreck.