For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

– Matthew 6:21

This was originally going to be one blog post, but as I began writing, I realized that the topic of paid section leaders (and the rest outlined in the title of this post) is much more complex than the surface proposition. 

Part 1 deals with history and the formation of the prevailing mindset.

Part 2 consists of some thoughts on the big picture of why section leaders can make a real difference in the growth of a music program and the quality of the worship experience.  

And Part 3 explores different scenarios in successfully incorporating paid section leaders into a volunteer choir.

Part 1: A Brief Look Back

I have never understood the reluctance to employ paid section leaders in choirs.  But just because I don’t understand it doesn’t mean there isn’t real opposition in some church communities.

Not only from a “budget” perspective but also a belief that paid outsiders shouldn’t be singing in a volunteer choir, almost viewed is an insult to those in the music ministry.

For the moment, let’s take budget out of the equation. By budget, I mean a real lack of money.

Don’t interpret lack of money with prioritization of money for worship – two very different scenarios.

In many cases, there is enough money for section leaders but it is still considered anathema?

Why?

Some Qualifying History

Before we go any farther, let’s take a look back at the broader issue of money and modern church music ministry.

Since I have been in the trenches for over 50 years, I am able to encapsulate that experience and growth from a personal perspective.

For most of my career, I have been a Roman Catholic Church Musician/Organist, but I have had several successful tenures in Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian Church communities.

In my opinion, everything concerning modern music ministry, including money, is tied to one seminal event in the Christian Church – the Second Vatican Council.

Even though this was ostensibly a Roman Catholic event, the broader ramifications to all Christian Churches cannot be denied.

This is the reason that most Christian churches use a standard calendar of scripture for their Sunday services, also the same translations of Sunday texts.

The formation of an official Catholic organization known as the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), became so successful that many, if not all mainline denominations adopted its guidelines and translations for continuity in worship (where do you think “And also with You” came from?).

Even the Sunday liturgical form in most Lutheran, Episcopal/Anglican, and some Presbyterian denominations are indistinguishable in format from the Roman Catholic Sunday experience (or vice versa depending on your perspective).

When the Second Vatican Council opened the doors, folk groups, praise bands, liturgical dance, new traditional hymns, etc. all started to flower and an unbelievable amount of music was composed to fill the void of these new worship forms.

Before the Second Vatican Council, there were virtually no paid positions in Catholic church music – maybe an insignificant stipend ($5 for a mass or $20 for a wedding/funeral) but that was it.

All of a sudden there was a great demand for professional musicians – and professionals expected to be paid (tuition at Eastman School of Music is around $50 – $60 K this year!).

Also, how do you perform and lead congregations with all this new music?  

Add to the mix a new invention that was becoming quite popular, the copier (known in the old days as “The Xerox”).

All this copied music made its way into the churches until an eventful day in 1976, when a registered letter arrived for the Bishop (and the Auxiliary Bishop, who was the Rector of the Cathedral I was employed as Director of Music).

It came from the Publishing Company, FEL, known for their landmark “Hymnal for Young Christians.”  The letter announced that FEL was suing the Archdiocese of Chicago for copyright infringements.

This was an unbelievable turn in modern church history. Up until 1976, no one, and I mean NO ONE sued the church!

The results of this one action led to the infancy of copyright licenses and organizations devoted to this.

Over the years these organizations matured into very savvy and focused contractual entities such as Onelicense and CCLI.

But, it also put more financial pressure on the church, who were actively engaged in fighting this disturbing trend of paying for music and musicians.

It was a heady time!

I remember well my Rector, the Auxiliary Bishop, writing a letter to the Bishop of the Diocese, urging a strong stance against paying professional musicians.

One of the quotes (not verbatim) from the letter was,

“With the advent of new music and emphasis on trained musicians, the church is at a crossroads which will affect it for years and generations to come. Church music and church musicians are becoming commoditized, and this will severely impact budgets of church communities.”

Truer words were never written!

All of a sudden I was presented the chance of making my love of church music a career as opposed to an avocation.

I also sadly knew that my time at the Cathedral was at an end – I could not continue to work for an administration that was actively working against me and my professional ministry.

I left a few months later.

When I left, the Cathedral was paying me $2500/year, self-employed, no benefits.  My new church offered me a salary of $8500/year and full benefits.

To quote a lyric from The Time Warp. a popular song from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, “nothing will ever be the same again.”

[Click here for part two. And click here for part three.]


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About The Author: Anthony “Tony” Rimore originally hails from Rochester, New York where he studied Organ Performance at the Eastman School of Music with David Craighead and Timothy Albrecht (currently the Emory University Organist). He has been Director of Music & Organist at several churches throughout his career.