Discernment: Balancing the Virtues

As I was following various commentary on discernment in music ministry, I was struck by the extremes mentioned in the threads which apply beyond the Venn diagram circle of “music,” especially two:

– Parish (music) ministry is about welcome and inclusion and therefore, anybody and everybody can join.

– Parish (music) ministry is about quality and skill; therefore, only the pros are welcome to join.

Taken in isolation, either stance is at best a caricature, and at worst, blind extremism. Either approach is likely to blow up in the face of a less-than-discerning leader. Discernment isn’t about having a spiritual ouija board in one’s head, or flipping the page of one’s Bible, or even transferring one’s feelings about ministry onto a situation, making a decision, and saying, “I’ve discerned.”

Taking music, let’s look at the whole parish situation. A less-than skilled singer has a place in the choir, certainly. If a mutual discernment reveals a personal interest coupled with a desire to learn and improve, then yes, I’d say that there is wide room for a choir to be generally welcoming of new members.

I once had a guy in one of my choirs who liked to sing, and saw his rehearsal and Mass time as part of his social life. That was okay–for starters. He began to get testy as I challenged him to improve his singing. It was a small choir, so with only two other male singers, he tended to stand out or even distract the other guys from their parts. “It’s not fun anymore,” he protested to me and wanted to quit outright. I suggested he take some time to pray about it, talk with other choir members, and wait for a calmer time to make his decision. I did remind him that as a group, the choir had decided to advance from being a simple folk group where people could indeed just “sing the way they felt it” to being an ensemble where we were learning voice technique, part-singing, and some more advanced music.

I can’t vouch for his eventual resignation as being a “discernment,” but I do know that after my “breaking in period,” this group prayed, discussed, and pondered carefully the direction they wanted to head. The person in question was part of that process. It can be a sad and wrenching situation when discernment of a group leaves someone behind. But ultimately, it was the man’s choice. The group went on from there, though somewhat saddened for the loss of a friend.

Involvement in ministry is not about having a position. Having a position implies just that: a place to park one’s bottom. The Holy Spirit and the Church are dynamic entities. Sometimes things change: people, situations, skills, the overall mix of gifts. The discerning believer must be aware that changeability is part of the picture.

Enough for now; any comments?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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One Response to Discernment: Balancing the Virtues

  1. Keith Strohm says:

    I like what you’ve written about here! And I think you did a magnificent job with that one gentleman who liked choir as part of his social life. I would add to what you wrote that one must include musical charisms in addition to musical skill and talent as part of the discernment process.

    God has gifted specific individuals with the supernatural power to be an effective channel of His love through the “performing” or composing of music. These charisms are present in our communities and are waiting to be discerned and supported.

    They yield far more in terms of “effectiveness” than our natural talents could ever do–and by and large we as Catholics tend to forget their presence.

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