Unless you've been living in a hole (ie. you're not on Facebook), you've likely heard about the Music Director of the New York Philharmonic stopping Mahler's Ninth Symphony when a cell phone went off in the middle of the piece. Maestro Alan Gilbert waved the orchestra to stop playing as a marimba ring tone rang out from the front row (why is the volume always jacked up on the most obnoxious ring tones?!). Naturally it was during a quiet, dramatic, most inopportune moment. You can read the story here.
Most clergy (and lay people) can relate both to the experience and the frustration of cell phones going off in the middle of public "performances" (we happen to call them liturgies). Look, if you're a high churchman you're used to things ringing during the eucharist -- sanctus bells rung at the elevation of the bread and wine are an integral part of the mass. But things rung by anyone other than an acolyte (ie. that cell phone) interrupt the flow, the majesty, and the passion of the sacred space created through intentional, devoted worship.
We certainly all have stories of cell phones going off at the worst possible times. A cell phone went off while I was preaching just this past Sunday. If it has to happen, I'd obviously prefer it to go off during a particularly boisterous hymn. But at least when I'm in the pulpit I can just stop and wait it out (trying my utmost not to glare).
I particularly remember two instances of cell phones ringing in church. Last year a cell phone went off in the middle of the Good Friday silent veneration of the cross. I remember thinking "This is outrageous!" but there's nothing you can do about it. The other was at my church in New York during a baptism. A teenage friend of the baptismal family was standing around the font as we were baptizing a little girl. Her cell phone went off...and she answered it! "I'm at a baptism; I guess I'll have to call you back." I wanted to dump the holy water all over HER (and her flip phone).
I'd be interested to hear other cell phone stories if you have them. Maybe we can compile the best ones. What are your strategies for dealing with this annoyance? Have you ever stopped the proceedings like Maestro Gilbert or do you just barrel through? Has YOUR cell phone ever gone off during a service?
I'm not sure what Jesus would have done if a cell phone went off during the Sermon on the Mount. Something tells me he would have grabbed it and tossed it into the Sea of Galilee.