“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” Carl Sandburg
Trudy* began a very nice church job last fall. Wonderful clergy, wonderful congregation, and wonderful choir. There’s only one thing wrong with all these lovely people: no one is on time for anything. Worship services routinely start late. The clergy is late to meetings he, himself, has scheduled and has been known to show up ten to fifteen minutes late for worship. Of course, the worship service cannot begin until clergy arrives. His sermons are always about ten to fifteen minutes, so services at least have a consistent length. Members of the congregation show up as much as 30 minutes late and once or twice Trudy has observed a congregant arriving as a service has ended.
When she first started, Dan*, the organist, told her he begins his preludes five minutes after services are scheduled to begin. The chronic lateness bothered him when he first came to this congregation but now, he just “rolls with it” and plans for everything being at least fifteen minutes late. He does, however, show up ‘way before rehearsals and services are scheduled to begin in the event things begin “on time” that particular Sunday.
Her choir is late for rehearsals and warm-ups most weeks, but not always. She has been told their congregation has always been “laid back” and “loose.” They seem to take pride in the fact they don’t take themselves too seriously by being “rigidly on time.”
Trudy’s been told to relax, not to worry and to loosen up. Which would be fine if she hadn’t spent most of her life trying to respect other people’s time. She feels her time is NOT being respected and despite loving her actual job, is contemplating resigning after Easter. She reached out to me, wondering if she should resign.
All this is making Trudy grit her teeth in frustration! She comes from a family whose motto is “if you are on time, you are late.” Her father expected everyone to be at least ten minutes early, no matter what time they were supposed to be somewhere. She was raised to believe being on time is an important component in respect and professionalism. Her timeliness has served her well as a musician.
I asked her if it is really everyone’s lateness or their perceived lack of respect causing her desire to resign. Trudy is not sure. She loves the job and the people, and it is a perfect fit for her current life situation. She would love to stay but always waiting for other people to show up bothers her. Trudy realizes it’s her issues and not anyone else’s but it still irritates.
I explained to Trudy the only person she has control over or can change is herself. I didn’t suggest she try to change other people but only her way of handling them. If she really is having doubts about her decision to resign, perhaps she should do a little experiment. She can try to shape her choir’s behavior and see what happens.
One of my early church music mentors gave me a technique of handling rehearsal latecomers that has worked for me. I still use it with my chamber choir. Begin rehearsal as close to “on time” as possible with warm-ups. Spend about ten minutes on your warm-ups, then do announcements. Once announcements are over, anyone showing up after is considered late. Do NOT repeat warm-ups. Do NOT repeat announcements. There will be singers who are late who will complain about not being fully warmed up. Tough. There will be singers who are late who are confused when you mention a change covered in your announcements. Tough. Be matter of fact but be firm. Within a few weeks, Trudy should notice most of her singers will be closer to “on time” then they’ve ever been. But do NOT change this new routine or they will fall back into their old habits.
Trudy could change, slightly, when rehearsals begin. I noticed a huge difference when I changed a bell choir rehearsal time from 6:30 to 6:45—getting home from work, making dinner, or cleaning up after, caused folks to be late. Once I gave them fifteen “extra” minutes, it made a huge difference. There is no real difference beginning at 7 or 7:15 but it might make a HUGE difference for her choir.
Trudy has decided to try my ideas and few more we brain-stormed together. And has decided to wait until Pentecost to make any decision. I’ll keep you updated.