Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Update from the Trenches

I'm having a hard time finding time to blog, lately. So much has been happening that it is difficult to find the time and energy necessary to attend this outlet.

First off, my Minister of Music, Eric, resigned. We had a tight collaboration, and I have to say that I have never worked with a more knowledgable partner to plan and execute liturgies. I'm feeling the loss keenly, but I'm also aware that one should never let a good crisis go to waste. So I am working with the choir to grab hold of this "missional moment."

On my mind, the role of the traditional "Director of Music" is small parishes. Is it sustainable in our era? There have been so many resignations among Music Directors in Toronto in the last two years that it raises some serious questions about how we understand the roles of clergy and musicians in making worship happen. I have a theory--I think that a lot of the problems happening in the parish-music-world have to do with the enormous pressure church musicians are under. Many are being asked to do things they were never trained. The church most of were trained to serve is rapidly passing away.

Another question on my mind has to do with some of the basic assumptions of where "good" liturgy comes from. I was trained to think that good liturgy is the result of experts applying accumulated wisdom from the tradition to plan a service on behalf of the people. Parishioners are expected to come alongside basically after the planning has been done, which limits participation in liturgy to the execution side. Yes, I absolutely realize that many churches have worship committees and other ways to spread out some of the planning responsibilities, but this seems to be the exception, not the rule.

So I am experimenting with a return to fundamentals. The last two Sundays we haven't even had a leaflet, I've simply called out hymns and page numbers and people have figured it out with the BAS and hymnbook in hand. There are a lot of limitations to book-based worship, but it does simply things in many ways. For the moment, simple is good as we get our legs underneath us again.

The Annual Vestry meeting is this upcoming Sunday. The big issue is clearly stewardship. Giving was way down in 2010, and even though we managed to keep expenses under budget, we still managed to accumulate a lot of debt thanks to our operating deficit. It is not sustainable. So we are going to have to make some hard decisions, in all likelihood. My hope is that the Stewardship Campaign over the next few weeks will substantially increase giving, but if it doesn't then we need to take a ruthless look at the budget.

The pressure on me feels enormous. Clergy easily become the "symptom bearers" of a congregational system. Meaning, when things are dysfunctional in the parish, clergy become symptomatic. I'm experiencing wild mood swings, depression, disrupted sleep patterns, and difficulty in my prayer life. The parish has noticed, and I've had spoken my mind with my Wardens, but the problem is really only get solved in one of two ways. Either the people in the parish are going to take on more responsibility for addressing our challenges, or I am going to become more differentiated. That is, I'm not going to take the problems of the parish so personally.

Yet that kind of heathy differentiation is much harder to achieve, especially in a Pastoral-sized parish and especially in a first-incumbency, than I expected. I am the one responsible, it seems. Try as I might to get others to be in charge of one aspect or another, it just seems to always default back to me. That's why I have to arrange the chairs on Sunday morning and pickup the discarded papers and hymn books after worship on Sunday afternoon.

If I were healthier I would simply let the chairs go where they will go, and not worry about cleaning up the church after worship, either. But right now I care too much about this place not to make it tidier. See the dilemma? This is at the heart of one of the fundamental issues in parish life: how do you form disciples and fellow ministers, rather than simply engage people with worship. Worship is great, don't get me wrong, but we are called to far more than simply coming to church on Sunday!

As I said, I think this is a classic problem in parish ministry, and that probably it is harder for those of that are relatively new to the craft. Then again, I might be totally out on a limb. We'll see!



Daniel Graves said...

We struggle with having no real coherence to our music. This is a major problem which I'm trying to take in hand. We have an organist twice a month, a pianist once a month and usually a relief organist or pianist for the other Sunday. The liturgy cannot be sung with any consistency and each musician holds a fair bit of ownership over their style of music. We have a volunteer music director who chooses hymns, but the choir also gets to choose hymns if it's their birthday. See the situation I'm in? I'm trying to get control of things a bit, but I don't want to hurt anyone.

Tay Moss said...

Yes, I see the problem you are having. I'm avoiding that because we are just starting this and no one has been able to settle in and create a little fiefdom. Right now people seem very engaged in more collaborative culture. The other thing is that I have pushed all the musicians we've worked with to go outside their comfort zones. I've really pushed them to do things they aren't sure they know how to do, and means that we all feel like we are risking a lot.