For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
– Matthew 6:21
In this second installment, I will talk about three things: a) your church’s/parish’s priority for Sunday morning worship, b) how to secure funding for paid section leaders, and 3) the difference professional section leaders can make to a music ministry.
Where does Sunday worship fit into the spectrum of your church community’s life? Obviously, if you are reading this article, it is probably your first priority!
However (and sadly), Sunday worship has usually been relegated to “just muddle through it on Sunday AM” especially in some denominations.
Since I am a lifelong Roman Catholic, I will say in my experience, Sunday liturgical worship is not a priority in the majority of Catholic churches. And much of it, from my experience, hinges on Pastoral leadership.
Let me give you an example — while in Miami I served as Director of Music/Organist in several Catholic parishes.
One, in particular, had a Pastor that was totally committed to Sunday worship as the lifeblood of the church – everything flowed from the Sunday experience.
The church was in a wealthy neighborhood in Miami, and there was no lack of money. We had 4 paid section leaders (SATB) as well as well-intentioned volunteers, many with voices that were less than adequate (let me hasten to add, I always welcomed anybody who wants to sing in the choir as long as they attended rehearsal).
The paid section leaders created an anchor to the choir and gave volunteers without much musical training a way to sing the correct notes and not lose their part against other parts.
In terms of sound, it made all the difference in the world and the choir kept growing. Also, things did not fall apart when some volunteers did not show up on Sunday AM. We established a consistency of excellence in worship.
The next year, the current Pastor retired and a new Pastor was assigned.
At the first Parish Council meeting, the new Pastor asked each member to state what they liked most about the parish and what set the parish apart.
Each Parish Council member, without one dissension, clearly stated that the music was what made the parish special and what attracted people to the parish.
With such a clear mandate I was assured that the tradition of paid section leaders and commitment to a professional music ministry would continue!
So dear readers, the following week, in my initial meeting with the Pastor, what do you think was the first thing to be cut? YEP! The new Pastor saw the Section Leaders as “a frivolous waste of money” and “just continue the fine tradition of music without them.”
Of course, everything fell apart immediately and we became a 4 hymn, no harmony parish (sadly, the church lost significant membership that year). However, I knew what everyone on the Parish Council said, so I expected some backlash to this new policy aaaaaaaand — nothing.
I learned a valuable life lesson that year about Sunday Worship – people have priorities – they may like what happens in Sunday worship, but ultimately, a lot of folks simply do not care. This is true for Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalians, Baptists – all denominations.
In many cases, they vote with their feet… Sad, but true.
But look at the other side of Sunday worship, at some very large churches, we might use the phrase mega-churches. Their leadership put a significant priority on the Sunday Experience, with state-of-the-art visual and audio equipment, paid professional musicians, the works.
Now, look at Mega-Church Sunday attendance — look at “traditional” Sunday attendance. The answer is right there in front of us, but traditional church leadership many times are unable to see.
Now, let’s talk about how to secure funding for paid section leaders.
Even if you haven’t worked out the Priority issues (it takes time) you can start looking for ways to begin funding paid section leaders.
First, you need to start small (this is no great revelation of truth I’m sure!). You need buy-in from the person in charge, be it the Pastor or the church finance chair, or whoever holds the purse strings.
You need to be SUPER creative and perhaps you need to temporarily sacrifice some other program that is already funded, like new music acquisition.
In a recent case, my Director of Music left just after Christmas time. I offered to save the church money by taking over the choir directing duties on a temporary basis (for a modest extra stipend) and use a small fraction of the salary they weren’t paying for section leaders (to relieve my stress of perhaps not having parts covered adequately).
It was a win-win, the choir sounded fantastic, choir commitment and attendance increased significantly since we were doing some great literature and we used just a fraction of the Director’s salary.
Everyone was more than pleased and constantly commented on how the choir inspired their worship of God!
To keep the initial money outlay under the radar, I suggest hiring only one or 2 professionals for a “nebulous” position, such as “Cantor” or “Leader of Song” with the caveat that they must also sing with the choir.
To keep the price for a professional manageable yet fair, ask them to come to rehearsal 45 minutes before the liturgy and not on a special evening. Make sure they have all the music weeks ahead of time, so they are prepared.
You will be amazed if you are organized, how the sound of your group will change and grow in just one week of implementing paid section leaders!
Where else can you find funding sources?
Remember, be creative! Maybe cut back on the budget for Christmas/Easter musicians?
It sounds like a horrible idea, but remember, this is only temporary – a year or so. I believe that once the worth is established, funding will follow. (it seems crazy but you know, — build it and they will come!).
Continue to ALWAYS educate the leadership and councils/sessions of the church and most importantly, the ASSEMBLY of the importance of Sunday worship.
This is not for the faint of heart – but for those that commit, the rewards will be great (but you must be patient).
And finally, vibrant church ministry is always 3 steps forward, 2 steps backward.
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