The "Deacon Speech"
Most local bodies do some sort of orientation for attendees just before a celebration of the Gnostic Mass, often led by the Deacon. This is a very useful custom. However, I've noticed a tendency for the "deacon speech" to grow in length and complexity. Often I see all or most of the participatory elements explained and demonstrated, along with instructions on inner states ("It's most comfortable if...", "visualize...", etc.).
I request that all clergy under my supervision err on the side of brevity when instructing the congregation. The desire to prepare the congregants is in itself commendable. However, the members of the congregation can be divided into two broad categories:
- Those who are already familiar with the Mass, and thus do not need instruction.
- Those who are not familiar with the Mass, and very unlikely to learn it right then.
Deluging newcomers with a long and complicated sequence of steps, signs, postures, and vocal elements which they will be expected to execute in the near future does not actually succeed in teaching anyone anything 93% of the time. Rather, all it achieves is an increase in anxiety -- "Oh my god, what if I forget when to do what??"
My ideal deacon speech would go something like this:
Welcome to this celebration of the Gnostic Mass at XYZ Oasis. Would anyone like a Missal with instructions on how to participate? [Distributes missals] As the missal describes, there are points in the Mass when you are invited to participate through gesture and voice. Follow along with me, or with the more experienced members of the congregation. The Mass concludes with a communion of cake and wine; [insert very brief description of local mechanics here]. Please make sure your cell phones are silent. Thank you.
If everyone in attendance is very experienced, you can omit everything but what is shown in bold. Beyond this, there may be temple-specific logistics to explain (e.g. "Take your shoes off before entering the temple"), but keep things as simple and short as possible. Again, it is usually most successful when newcomers are simply instructed to follow along with more experienced attendees.
If time and other tasks permit, having the deacon (or another very experienced attendee) take newcomers aside for orientation, singly or as a group, is a great idea. This should be done well before the Mass begins, so there is less time pressure, and hence more room for a conversation about any concerns that arise. This is official policy at Star Sapphire Lodge and elsewhere, and I encourage other local bodies to experiment with the practice as well.