“The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.” Ulysses S. Grant
As September winds down, we will deal with a few more Choral Ethics issues sent in by ChoralNetters during the summer. Summer, which I see as a transition period, has brought with it the usual problems along with some COVID twists.
Julia* has been working as an organist/choir director at a church for ten years, including the two and half years we’ve dealt with COVID. Her Pastor, Nick*, has been very creative coming up with solutions for working with the COVID restrictions their town has in place for the good of their congregation. He began by being the first in their area to have Zoom church services. And Julia and Nick became a team, a good team, but never suspected they would ever become a team at all.
Julia had been with this congregation for five years before Nick became the Senior Pastor. And when he came, things were shaken up. Julia was told he would preach on certain readings of the Lectionary and those were the texts of the anthems he would like. He wanted to approve her music selections and choral anthems because he wanted them to be a reflection of the scripture readings each Sunday. That’s all great but the problem was, he often wouldn’t know what he was going to preach about or which of the scriptures readings he was going to include until a week or two before the Sunday in question. That made it difficult for her choirs to be properly rehearsed or if there was a scripture passage not often set to music, for her to find a setting. They were at somewhat of an impasse as COVID began. Julia became worried about her job as well as everything else as their lockdown started.
After lockdown was lifted, they had parking lot services, with Julia playing a keyboard hooked up to an amp. Nick consulted her about his ideas, and they worked together to make them work. As things opened up, they gathered in their sanctuary with masks but no singers, and the congregational chanting of the hymns while Julia played. Restrictions loosened a bit more and their congregation added a cantor or two, and everyone sang with the usual masks on. Just before Lent this year, they began having the adult choir again, singing with singing masks, and folks seemed to feel better about their graduated choices.
Julia and Nick discussed each step at length on their way back to “normal” before each was implemented. They took into consideration what their town, state and denomination had as policy before they began any new variation on what they were doing. In fact, each new variation was approved by the church council; these were not willy-nilly decisions imposed by Julia and Nick on their unsuspecting congregation. A couple members of the church council believed they were too quick and spoke to their denomination’s leadership to complain.
When they learned of it, Nick was furious, and Julia was confused. No one, as far as they could tell, got COVID from attending Sunday Services. They maintained social distances at all times, required masks and this summer, left the church doors and windows open to promote air circulation, while continuing Zoom services for those not feeling well. A representative of their denomination, unbeknownst to them, attended a worship service Labor Day weekend and could find nothing wrong. He approached them during the coffee hour and asked to speak with them privately.
The representative told them they have had a number of cases such as theirs, spurred by tattle tailing congregation members, and have been checking them out to make sure each congregation is doing the responsible thing. Folks are worried but that doesn’t mean they need to go backwards at this point unless needed.
The good news is that Julia and Nick had each other’s back during this brouhaha. They’ve come to a good working relationship after a rough start before COVID. They are on the same page for many things now, including Nick telling her way in advance any special anthem requests. And they became friends.