January 27, 2021

The Evangelical Liturgy 23: The Postlude

I’ve served at two churches with exceptional pipe organs and organists. Some of my best memories of worship are about the postlude.

The last amen had sounded, the congregation was leaving the worship space and the organist, with the help of Bach, was taking the roof off the building.

I absolutely soaked it in. Could not get enough. If you have this sort of postlude possibility, I am officially envious.

Those postludes sent us out with JOY. Wonderful waves of the majesty of God, going out the doors, out the windows, right through us into that broken world that Jesus loves so much.

It could make up for any number of bad sermons, solos and choir specials. It was, when done well, sensational.

Of course, most churches can’t get close to that and shouldn’t try. A piano or brass postlude may be ambitious. Or in a contemporary setting, the band can simply cut loose.

Whatever you do, go out with joy, if possible. The Gospel, and its very Good News, should be the last Word heard and felt.

Go with God and Go in the music that fills the Trinity, spilling over to the open heart of every person who is thirsty for the Living God.


  1. Just for Quix says

    My wife has said if I have an organ played at her funeral she is sending clowns to mine. *shudder* 🙂

    As a member of one of our church bands I struggled somewhat with the volume and enthusiasm of the postlude because I believed it may conflict with people coming forward for prayer or conversation, whether in response to the Invitation, or for any other need. I am told that because conversation and/or prayer happens in a small circle, usually one or two people plus a pastor or church leader, that the band playing forms a wall of sound to help the prayers at front to be more private.

    That may be so. And I certainly enjoy an exultant response hymn or song at closing along with a refrain or postlude. Still I admit that the music is a barrier for me wanting to converse or pray at the front after the meeting. Too much stimulus going on. What is the primary emphasis of the worship meeting? For whose needs in the congregation is the balance best struck?

    • If prayer at the front were part of my tradition, I’d obviously not have a postlude.

      • I think you may be confusing the postlude with the invitation. In evangelical traditions, the invitation is when people usually go forward for prayer or to make a “decision”. The postlude is the music played as people are leaving.

  2. As an organist myself, I consider it my privilege to send the congregation out with a joyous, uplifting and majestic postlude. I consider it a fitting close to my own worship for the morning—it’s not just a performance tacked on to the end of the service; it’s part of the worship. Many people enjoy sitting in the pew and listening through the prelude. For those that enjoy this, it’s nice when others are considerate enough to take their conversations out in the fellowship hall (where possible). Anyhow, a stirring postlude is a great way to end worship.

    • I meant listening through the POSTlude not PRElude.

      • One hopes that most of the folks get there on time to sit listening through the prelude, as well 🙂

        That is definitely one area in which my very international church could use some improvement.

    • The Guy from Knoxville says

      Here, here Jeff…. I always try to do a rousing and joyful postlude at the end of the service every chance I get. Only thing was at the church I played at last the pastor wanted to sing a closing song or chorus at the end and the pianist and myself usually ended up playing the closing song/chorus through again for the postlude…. boring….. the pianist had been the lead instrumentalist for so long before I started that it was a given, for the most part, that we followed her lead. From time to time though I would ask to do a big postlude or when she was out for some reason (vacation etc) and I was the lead I always did a big postlude and especially enjoyed doing one of the big classic hymns – Crown Him with Many Crowns, A Mighty Fortress, Immortal, Invisible, Ode to Joy, Jesus Shall Reign etc.

      Also, from time to time I would do special intros to hymns such as in the Easter Sunday morning service (Christ the Lord is Risen Today) or at Christmas (O Come All Ye Faithful). This was not what the post here was about but, I didn’t have a ton of opportunities for any of these music offerings other than the prelude which I always did as the pianist was back rehersing the choir.

      Well, enough on all that…… when you have the opportunity – send em out with joy and take the roof off and stand on that 32′ Bombarde on the end….whew, nothing like that big reed to finish off the piece!

  3. Years ago I attended First Presbyterian in Berkeley, Ca. At the end of each service the organist would blow the windows out. Usually a few people would gather near to the organ and when he finished would give organist a gentle round of applause. Beautiful.

  4. Not a lot to add, IM. We are fortunate enough to have a music professor from Stanford as our organist, so we are able to listen to and render to God some of the best art that Western culture has to offer.

  5. Steve Newell says

    The Postlude should also reflect the church year. I would expect that the type of music for Lent or Holy Week to be very different that that of Easter, Christmas or Epiphany.

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Isn’t this what Liturgical churches call “The Recessional”?

    • It is, I believe. And in the Roman Catholic liturgy, the processional is the only time when a hymn is regularly permitted. Hymns are permitted elsewhere only by exception to the rule. Technically, the Mass ends at “Ite missa est. / Deo gratias.” so the processional technically falls outside of the liturgy and therefore, beyond the reach of any rubric. So, the processional hymn is usually the loudest, lustiest musical number of the service.

      I’m quite fond of ending things with “Faith of our Fathers”, which was quite common at a parish I used to attend.

      • Ugh, I meant to write, of course, the “Re”cessional.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          OK. At St Boniface, they often use Beethoven’s “Hymn to Joy” (the instrumental usually sung as “Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee”) for the Recessional. Local custom there is to not “visit” in the church building itself, but go outside where the KoC is either serving donuts or one of our Hispanic ministries is selling street tacos as fundraisers. I never pass up a chance for a good Asada soft taco.

  7. Dolan McKnight says

    I would agree that there is nothing to end a service on a positive, invigorating, go-into-the-world-and-proclaim-the-Gospel note than an organ poslude. Fortunately, we hear that each Sunday at my church and, interestingly enough, many Dallas churches have acquired new organs in the last few years.

    I used to go to a church where the pastor’s wife forbade the organist to play anything loud because it interfered witht the congregation’s visiting after the service (they were good about visiting during the prelude also). This later morphed into not allowing any classical pieces to be played. Needless to say, I changed churches.

  8. Totally agree. And I try to do my part playing the loudest, most joyful pieces, when its my turn on our little pipe organ.

    What I would add, is that it is really nice when there is room for a moment of quiet time for just before that. When the last hymn is sung standing up and then there is a moment for silent prayer, rather than someone prattling into it with announcements, rehashing what was already said, etc. Have that moment and then lay into the postlude.

  9. If you want to stir up a little controversy, suggest to the congregation that they sit quietly and listen to the postlude/closing voluntary. This would express appreciation for the organist’s time in preparing the music. But that’s often a hard sell to folks who see it as “exit music.”

    When I was in college/seminary at SMU, we had a great organist at Perkins Chapel named Robert Anderson and it was expected that the congregation sat all the way through the postlude. It was definitely worth it! I can still hear him playing Widor’s Toccata.

    Michael, thanks very much for this series. While much of the church wants to make us who serve “traditional” congregations (mine is United Methodist) apologetic for not jumping on the contemporary bandwagon, it’s nice to read a good word about liturgy — “the work of the people.”

  10. Oh, yes!! Amen! We have it every Sunday. We have communion every week near the end of the service. Just before we partake the minister says, “Lift up your hearts,” and we say, “We lift them up to the Lord.” The postlude absolutely sends you out the door with lifted hearts.

  11. Two summers ago my husband and I attended mass at Notre Dame in Paris. Never in 51 years, spent mostly in Baptist and Methodist churches (some with very good organists) , have I heard music like the recessional that sent us out into the world! I am now Catholic and my husband reluctantly accompanies me to mass on occasion. I think the Notre Dame mass was the first one he may have actually enjoyed and the organ music played a large part in that.

  12. iMonk,
    Could not agree more–a great organ is Joy to the World and sends you out dancing.

  13. Does this wrap up the series? Because frankly, I’m not sure that these days everyone knows where the liturgy ends and all the peripheral add-ons begin.

    The Evangelical Liturgy 24: The Bake Sale

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