Friday, August 01, 2008

Squealing in Worship

No, this is not a new Charismatic movement.

For the last several months we have had increasing problems with people's hearing aids emiting ear-splitting squeals in the middle of worship. Most of the time, the person whose hearing aid is doing the squealing seems not to be aware that this is happening. Either the squealing goes on and on until we are all ready to run shrieking from the building, or someone nudges their neighbor to let them know there's a problem or one of the ushers stalks up and down the side aisles until they identify the "culprit". Also, many people assume the problem is with our sound system and exit church following worship grumbling, "Can't you DO something about all that feedback??"

Now it is possible that feedback between our sound system, individuals' personal hearing aids and the hearing assistance devices we pass out is part of what sets things off. We're trying to figure out the technical issues this presents.

Have any of you all run into this? How have you addressed it? Input on the technical stuff would be welcome, but so would insights on how to handle this pastorally. A member of the worship committee suggested reintroducing the old Puritan office of someone going around with a long stick to clonk offenders on the head--snoring back in the old days, faulty hearing aids now--but I'm not sure that's the appropriate strategy here.

Go ahead. I'm all ears.


more cows than people said...

I experienced this a lot. I would look to the sound guy who was madly checking levels and then when he was sure he'd point to his ear to suggest that it was a hearing aid issue. At which point, at the first available moment, I'd say as gently as possible "It appears that we are experiencing some hearing aid feedback. If you happen to be wearing a hearing aid today, if you could please check and adjust your equipment if necessary we would appreciate it. Thank you." Lots of hands would go to ears and often the probably would be quickly resolved. No one ever seemed offended.

Don't know if your worship context is flexible and informal enough to allow this, but this is what we did.

As for the technical stuff... no clue.

Juniper said...

I've worn hearing aids for about 5 or 6 years, and never had them "feedback" from interacting with a sound system.

In my experience, they squeal from
1. being turned up too loud, which means they are not "tuned" properly, or they don't have new batteries so they are not working at their normal level.
2. not being cleaned often enough (if ear wax makes you queasy, you might want to stop reading now...)

Hearing aids are meddlesome to maintain and expensive to replace, even for me who is pretty youthful and has a good income. So for someone struggling to remember things, remembering to change the batteries (must be done every week) or dig the earwax out of that little, tiny hole (must be done every day) - can fall far down on the list. And for people on fixed incomes, the expense of hearing aids, which are not covered by any insurance, is an impediment to havig them looked at also.

Depending on your relationship with the person/caregiver/spouse, it might be possible to say something to them - letting them know you can hear it whistling....

I know i have done this, but it might be easier since people know I myself have had the same experience. MC's idea to address the whole congregation seems good to me, too.

Just make sure you let them know somehow, since most people who lose their hearing, lose it in those high registers, so they really cannot hear that high pitched squealing like you can.
This is one reason I always say - as a person who has very mild hearing loss - that it is one disability (at least in its milder forms) that might be more annoying for the people around us, than it is for the person who is actually experiencing the loss.

Oh, boy, taking over the comments...stopping now....

Juniper said...

Oh wait, I'm not done yet. They also whistle from things getting in the way of them, so if you have any ladies with helmet-hair or high collars, that might be the problem, too. Not joking.....

St. Casserole said...

I'm concerned you might surprise the hearing-aid wearer if you mentioned this in worship. One solution would be to ignore the noise, as best you can, and let a friend of the whistling hearing aid wearer speak to them about the noise.
I've got people who talk to each other throughout the service along with a family who pass each other hard candies RIGHT BEFORE THE SERMON and proceed to compete over who can make the most noise unwrapping the candy. I pretend I don't notice and believe someone will mention this to them.