Friday, March 18, 2016

Functional church (CCC part 8)

Thank you for bearing with me during our four week "digression." Part of that was indulgent on my part: as I prepare to leave I wanted to tell you something about what makes this church so special. But I think that may have been instructive as well, even in a roundabout way.

Next week we'll get down to the nitty gritty. What are the issues that organists frequently have with their churches that makes them unhappy, and what, if anything, can be done about them? There will be observations and potential plans of action you might undertake to improve the situation in your church.

But part of the time will be spent, not in how to fix problems, but discussing how we react to them. When is discussion useful? What are ways to master the 'soft' answer, the firm but not aggressive stance, or is it necessary to be confrontational? Or should you just leave and go somewhere else?

Since I am not a bridge-burning kind of individual, I will rarely counsel anyone to just leave a situation without trying to work things out. But there is one area in which it seems to me that the answer to a serious problem, or a plethora of serious problems, may be to do just that. And that is the reason for our slow buildup.

The answer has to do more with the staff around you. And the church as a whole. There is really no situation on earth where an artistically inclined person can 'just be an artist,' just live for the music, or high standards, or their own education, or whatever. That never happens entirely. Beethoven had to manage to sell something to feed himself, so he couldn't exist entirely by writing Symphonies and Sonatas, even though he had rich patrons.

And when you are talking about the church, that is even more true. Most of the people around you will have different aims than you. If you have families, they will want to find something that their kids think is fun, which is not likely to include listening to Bach. If you have older people, they will have their own set ideas about what they enjoy. Most of them are not likely to be great fans of organ music, or piano music, particularly if you are more advanced in technique and taste than most of your congregation. There is a great potential for a genuine mismatch. And, since the enlightenment, many musicians have stopped working in the church altogether because they either do not feel that they are welcome to do what they do well, or because they don't believe in the mission of the church. It has not been an amicable divorce.

Organists, as in so many other things, are in a unique situation. Most organs are physically housed in churches, making almost impossible to avoid playing in church if that is your instrument, like it or not. Churches come in a great deal of variety, depending on the size, location, denominational practices, and character of an individual congregation. Some of them will welcome, even demand, great organ music, some will put up with it, some will resist. Some will prefer everything to be quaintly old fashioned, others will try to be modern. Some people will love what you do, others will try to get you to do things that you either do not want to do or do not even know how to do. And that assumes they are even able to adequately communicate their intentions. Or whether they simply assume what they like is what is right and should be self evident.

When I came to Faith church a decade ago, there were things that I did not feel happy with. These have changed over time, much for the better, which is one big reason I am writing this series. But before you make the determination to stay and try to change something about the church, one question needs to be answered. Is this a functional church?

Does the staff quarrel or get along? Do people protect their own turf or try to solve problems as they inevitably arise? Are people willing to work around unexpected obstacles so that other persons ministries can be encouraged? Are the solutions both/and or either/or? Does someone in leadership see your role as getting in the way of something they are trying to do, and why? Is compromise possible, or not?

There are churches that get into huge fights over small things. One of the stereotypical items is the color of the carpet. We changed ours a couple of years ago, and nobody raised a peep. Another big one is a fight over the style of worship. That has affected Faith, more in its past than in its present. Hardly anyone can escape that skirmish. But as diverse as Faith is in many ways, it continues to function, and, while some of its members engage in long or short-running feuds with other members or their pastors, most of the time, most of the people some reasonably happy, and most the the time Faith is an active place, in worship, in missions, in outreach, and in the community. It's something worth noting about your church, because not only does it go to the value of things that are larger than you and your issues, but it is also worth noting the practicality of trying to slowly, subtly change the views and appreciations of your congregation, and in some cases, make room for something that nobody thought they really needed before, but someday, will wonder how they ever got along without it.

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