After only seven months on the job I have resigned as music director at Hopewell Methodist Church. It just didn’t work out, for lots of reasons.
When I took the job my duties were to play the piano for services, direct the church choir, and oversee the other music ministries. My stated goals were to rebuild the choir and the music library, in addition to coordinating a blended worship service.
It was a challenge. I have never worked with a Praise Team™. I’m not familiar with the music, and have generally viewed the repertoire with disdain when compared to traditional music. Yet, I was willing to give it a shot. On my first Sunday there I played banjo with the group, which let them know I was willing to work with them and was not just a classical snob. I enjoyed the variety and found that there is some praise music that’s quite good. I was learning, and willing to learn.
For such a small church there is a TREMENDOUS amount of musical talent. In addition to the Praise Team we had a ukulele group and handbell choir. There were lots of instrumentalists, and lots of folks willing to participate. I cannot express enough how much I appreciate the choir and how they were willing to put up with my quirks as a director. I would like to think that I accomplished the first part of my goals.
But there were problems…
It’s a church. There are always going to be problems and difficult personalities. However, there were red flags that kept popping up after I’d taken the job.
When I asked about the music library, one member said, “Oh I kept telling our former music director that she wasn’t using all that stuff, so when she left we got rid of it.” I had no music for the choir, which is why my second goal was to rebuild that library. The same thing happened with the choir robes. Apparently they had an organ, but it “got hit by lightening.” When I asked about it, this same member said, “It was probably the best thing that ever happened to this church. That thing was too divisive.” Really??
But, perhaps, this image is the best indicator that there were problems.
People had complained about how loud the Praise Team was. Rather than work to correct the problem, the pastor put these out. To me it was a dismissive gesture.
I still felt like we could overcome these problems, though. I’ve dealt with difficult church members and difficult situations before. But there were things that just finally got to me.
First, I felt like I was useless. I played piano and directed the choir, but I had absolutely no input on most of what happened musically in that church. The Praise Team does about 15 minutes of music, and the choir does maybe a minute and a half during the offertory. There were members of the Praise Team that had more input into what music was selected for Sunday mornings than I did. I was not a “music director”. If something got cut in the interest of time it was always one of the hymns or traditional elements, never the praise music. I felt like the church really needed to decide whether or not they wanted a blended worship or just go straight contemporary. It felt to me like they wanted the latter.
There was no communication. When I’d complain about this the solution was always to have more meetings. I would be expected to drive all the way down to the church for a 30 minute meeting in which absolutely nothing was accomplished. I was putting in much more time in meetings and driving than the hours for which I was getting paid.
There were a thousand other little things…the finance director saying that we should get rid of the concert grand piano now that we had purchased an electronic keyboard for the praise band…the fact that the church locks its doors during worship services because they are so paranoid. We invested in a new sound board, but the sound board operator stormed out and resigned because he got tired of dealing with divas. The church was on the verge of being dysfunctional.
Back when I was a district tech director any time I’d pass by a school…it didn’t matter if it was one of my schools or one from another district…I’d get an anxiety attack. I’d start thinking about things I needed to do, or problems I was having in my own district. Recently that started happening every time I passed a Methodist church, or even just a sign for such a church. I took that as another indication I needed to let go.
I also felt like I was missing things I loved, including family. I missed my cousin’s funeral because of church obligations. I was no longer able to play in the Celtic sessions I enjoyed. My schedule was disrupted by constant (and constantly changing) useless church meetings. I wasn’t able to do things with family on the weekends because of church. And on and on.
Finally, there was health issues. I made a deal with Laura that if my blood pressure went up, I’d turn this job loose. It definitely went up. My doctor, who is also a professional musician and has worked with praise teams, advised me to let it go. I decided to heed my doctor’s advice. We’ll see if my BP goes down once my tenure here is done.
I turned in my resignation on Monday of this week. It was a two-week notice. I would stay until October 6, when I had scheduled a concert with the Upstate Gospel Pickers in church’s amphitheater. I felt obligated to see that through since I’m a part of that group. The pastor was understanding.
I told my choir at rehearsal and they were surprised, concerned, and very understanding. I knew that word would get around quickly, so shortly thereafter I sent an e-mail to the Praise Team to inform them. As of now I have received no responses – only silence. There have been no calls from the Staff-Parish Care Committee, no e-mail’s saying either “Thanks for what you’ve done” or “Why the hell are you doing this?” or “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” This, more than anything lets me know that I did the right thing. You would think there would be SOME reaction, one way or another.
I tried to make changes. It wasn’t going to happen. I told Laura it was like a person who marries an alcoholic thinking that they can change them. I do admire my friends Alan and Mary, who have been charter members of this church and continue to dedicate their time and efforts to the ministry. I just can’t keep it up though. If I feel that I have let anyone down, it’s them.
I enjoy working with church choirs. I gave up my last full gig when my school administrator job went twelve months. I needed weekends back. My plan was always to get back into church music when I retired, and I had hoped that this position would fulfill that plan. Oh well. Perhaps there is another church job where I’d be a better fit. For now, though, I’ll go back to being a heathen on Sunday mornings.