Monday, April 7, 2008


This is a blog post I'd rather not write. But I've shared on this blog several things about my family's involvement with our parish choir.

I wrote about joining the choir. I wrote about our enjoyment of harmony. I mentioned some of the lovely pieces of music we learned, and how much being part of the choir meant to our family.

I shared here the news of our dear choir director's sudden and tragic death last November. I may have mentioned that the members of our choir came together and provided the music for Christmas with the "direction" of some talented members.

I don't recall if I said exactly when a new director was hired. It was about three months ago, though it seems much, much longer than that.

This is where I want to be careful. This is a public blog, after all, and I don't wish to be unfair by being unduly specific about a person who will not be able to give his side of the story here; but at the same time, I can't deny his role in our decision to stop participating and leave our parish choir (and possibly the parish itself, though that remains to be decided).

Let me just put it this way: for a variety of reasons the new director has not turned out to be someone we can continue to work with. And we're not alone. Including our family, about fourteen people have quit our choir, which used to have about twenty active members and about five or so more who participated as often as they could.

It is disappointing, to say the least. What has been most disappointing has been the parish's official response: those of us who have left are assumed to have been simply resistant to change. It is tacitly presumed that we were so "tied in" to our former director's way of doing things that we would have felt the same way about anyone who was brought in after his most untimely death, and that we would have left the choir in any case.

But this is as untrue as it is unjust. Yet our hands are tied. We've been requested not to "gossip" about the situation, which pretty much means not to talk of it even internally among the choir, let alone to the parishioners outside the choir, some of whom are quite aware that there is something wrong. If anyone in the parish does have the impression that we, and the other members who have left, were being troublemakers or were just too rigid to accept change that is an impression that will not be corrected.

Part of me doesn't want to accept things this way. Part of me would like to speak openly and directly with anyone who might be interested in the situation, to explain fully what went on and clarify the reasons we all have had for leaving. Part of me, too, bristles at what has been said about our duty to keep quiet and avoid causing trouble for the parish. Granted, this isn't a situation of anywhere near the gravity of the Scandal, but it seems that the uppermost concern in the minds of the parish leadership is that we don't admit that anything at all negative has occurred, or do or say anything that might cause parish members to realize that there is any kind of a problem--in fact, the leadership doesn't acknowledge that there IS a problem, and just wants those of us who are thinking and talking about the problem to go away; and that seems uncannily like the mindset that was prevalent during all those sad and terrible years when the "problem" was a lot bigger than issues (serious though I believe these are) with a choir director.

But part of me realizes that the parish is going to notice the disappearance of more than a dozen members of a relatively small choir, anyway. Part of me knows for a fact that parish members have also noticed some of the problems with the new director, as these things have sometimes been visible at or just before Mass. Part of me believes that backing away and trusting God to handle things is the best thing to do, since no one will be harmed by my not speaking. If some parishioners are inclined to believe bad things about those of us who have left--well, we won't be around to hear those whispers, anyway, so what difference does it make?

The worst impact of the whole thing has been the loss of trust many of us have had in the parish itself. Few of us feel at all comfortable continuing to be active members of this parish which most of us have belonged to for at least five or six years (and some double or triple that number). But trust tends to be destroyed when the actions of a new employee of the parish are backed up and supported even when these actions are directly responsible for the loss of a significant number of choir members, and the demoralization of several of the handful who remain.

Fortunately, my Catholic faith has never depended on a particular parish (or a particular church leader, particular diocese, or even entire geographic area complete with its own conference of bishops). As sad as this whole situation makes me, it does not have the capacity to surprise me. My confidence is in God, that He has reasons for letting this work itself out in the way that it will, eventually; and in the meantime, that He will direct us somewhere else where we can put this extremely unpleasant experience behind us, and move forward in hope.


Anonymous said...

It makes my heart hurt to hear of these sorts of problems that can tear a community apart.
I just hate when "politics" takes a forefront in the community a parish is supposed to have. I'm sorry that your community seems to have deserted your haven.
My prayers will be with you, that it can be resolved.

Patrick Archbold said...

Perhaps you need to start an Attica style riot in the choir loft. Barricade yourselves in and take some ushers hostage. Execute and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion every hour on the hour until you get a helicopter and rid of the choir director.

Short of that, I guess I will just have to pray for you.

Red Cardigan said...

Patrick, I *so* needed that! :)

Keep those prayers coming!

Anonymous said...

Righto! Hasty and zealous reactions will only get one to that spot between a rock and a hard place, unfortunately. In a similar situation, with a musical organization for which my son had been a founding member, we expressed our gratitude to the departing leader (for which we had a chance, unlike your situation), and proceeded to move along to another musical venue.

Officially 'leaving' a parish is never a good idea, as other members may have been your friends and co-celebrators for some time, but if it's time to move along i.e. another close by parish offers a better chance for family participation, after much reflection, perhaps change will be considered, but not simply in light of the make-up of the choir. After all, the choir is not the only reason to participate in a particular parish, though it may seem that others in the parish may be yea or nay based on what has happened in the choir.

Of course one of the beauties of attending Catholic Mass is that it is catholic and can be held anywhere! I've enjoyed Mass at many churches here in this town, depending on family's schedule. Each one has a different 'flavor', but it's Mass nonetheless, and I sing along with the choir wherever there's singing!