Discernment in Parish Music Ministry

Be sure to check out the last thread with the commentary from two of the folks who blog at Intentional Disciples. Keith Strohm said something important:

Guitars or gregorian chant–there is just no way that a music ministry group should accept “all comers” on some notion that they are volunteers and we shouldn’t turn anyone away who wants to offer something to the community.

When I was in Virginia for two years, I inherited a choir that had a disinterested approach to rehearsal. You might find it strange that only one-third or so of the parish’s singers came to the one combined weeknight practice. But they did. People showed up at whatever Mass they wanted whenever the spirit moved them. My first weekend I had two singers join the choir during the psalm. Nice first impressions, eh?

I lived with it for a few months, and it didn’t change when summer was over. So the entire music ministry and I sat down and we had a discussion. I asked the people what they wanted from me, what they wanted in their music group, and how they saw themselves contributing to worship. I told them I could lead them anywhere in ministry they wanted to go. But we all agreed that showing up to sing on Sunday was not going to be the benchmark of being a singer in the choir.

After two weeks of talking, and some praying, we determined that a renewed commitment to practice was needed. People would get two choices of rehearsal times (the weeknight, plus the hour before Saturday Mass) so as to work toward the goals of improved vocal and/or ensemble skills with more of an eye of leading worship as opposed to singing at Mass. Otherwise, unrehearsed singers and musicians were not welcome.

The mid-morning Sunday choir shrunk from seventeen to six. The pastor, who did not have a high opinion of the “folk group,” was alarmed and said my job was to improve them, weed out the bad ones, but not destroy them.

Well …

One side lesson is that you need support from the top. But I stuck to my principles, and the group’s own discernment. And we gradually made progress from there.
Many people enjoy music. This can be a great starting point. One finds discernment through activities that provide personal satisfaction, social reinforcement, and accomplishment. If music fits the pattern, well and good.

Sometimes people have been involved in their parishes for years. At my present parish, I inherited many such folks: not particularly talented, but with lots of “experience.” And even in my personal liturgical nirvana, I will share with you that when I arrived, some people were involved in such a way that … let’s say there was some misdiscernment, or perhaps missed discernment in their history.

One of the specific tasks I was given upon my arrival in 2002 was to “work with the guitar group.” But it has not been a task for the faint of heart. A number of long-time members have discerned their way out of the group the past two or three years. Nobody has actually been kicked out. (Though one person might dispute that statement.) But we pray as a group. Occasionally we talk about what we want to do and where we should be rooted. People have come to their decisions, and I respect them for it. Still, it is hard to see people move on, and I can imagine it must be more difficult for the women and men who have known these people longer than I.

The most difficult discernment is not for people who come clueless to the parish office and wait to be slotted into a warm body spot. The toughest situations are those in which a stack of Assumptions sit like an elephant in the parlor. Undiscern and rediscern: that’s the challenge. If the ID people are training others to get a bead on that, I applaud them for it.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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2 Responses to Discernment in Parish Music Ministry

  1. The most difficult discernment is not for people who come clueless to the parish office and wait to be slotted into a warm body spot. The toughest situations are those in which a stack of Assumptions sit like an elephant in the parlor. Undiscern and rediscern: that’s the challenge. If the ID people are training others to get a bead on that, I applaud them for it.

    Tod:

    Most people have “a stack of Assumptions that sit like an elephant in the parlor” in our experience. (Great image!) We deal with it explicitly and directly at every C & G, assuring people that “it is success to discern where you are not gifted. Do yourself and everyone around you a favor.”

    And all of the interviewers are trained to do the same.

    In a culture of discernment where these ideas are commonly circulated, its much, much easier to have these sorts of conversations.

  2. Keith Strohm says:

    Todd,

    I’m heading out to Milwaukee in 5 minutes, but I definitely want to continue this conversation.

    I promise I’ll be back to contine this conversation tomorrow. Check back in this space!

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