I [...] am very fortunate to work for a church which truly appreciates its music ministry and musicians. Those churches seem few and far between in 2008 AD.
It is absolutely RUDE to talk during the prelude, whether or not you believe it is part of a church service, or relevant at all. The prelude is a time to step away from the roar of the everyday world. It is not background music at a cocktail party. To have organ music cover up the secular ramblings of a chatty congregation cheapens this offering to God.
The prelude is a time to talk with God. Some might even consider this dialogue prayer.
I and many other organists pray through our fingers and feet. How would you like to have your prayers interrupted by Aunt Mabel's recitation of her latest culinary creation featuring lime Jello and tuna fish?
This is a "teachable moment." If a congregation doesn't know any better, TEACH them how to prepare for worship. If the last few generations grew up with poor manners, it is up to us to lead them by word and example. This requires having standards, and also a SPINE!
"Us" means musicians and clergy together. Without clergy support, no matter what your denominational rubrics say, nothing is going to happen.
Too many churches, clergy, and musucians, in an effort to retain or boost membership, have become sloppy in our liturgical practices. Some have lowered standards to reach the lowest common denominatior.
Has this enhanced our worship? Has this brought in and retained an active membership? Have we given our best to the Glory of God? Has it done justice to the King of Instruments?
Jason has stated this so eloquently. I still remember when I was 8 years old and learning how to play the piano. My teacher had me working on a religious song (I think the title was "He," but that came out of my very fuzzy recollection). I remember my brother bothering me as I was practising this piece, and my retort to him was, "Don't bother me, I'm praying." He gave me a sneer and a snort and went on his merry way.
Childhood memories aside, even today, as I'm playing my musical offerings to God as I'm playing my preludes and postludes, I do also feel like it's a prayer of sorts. It's a good time to be reminded of the American Guild of Organists' motto: Soli Deo Gloria - Glory to God Alone.