Priest and Church Musician Relationship

Also see the article, “Priest and Church Musician, Shepherding the Congregation’s Song” on the HYMNS AND SPIRITUAL SONGS main page.

The Relationship between Principal Priest and Chief Musician

Rectors and church musicians have a unique and vital relationship in the ministry of Sunday worship.  They probably have the most important working relationship as it relates to Sunday, and any other services of worship.  The dynamics can be challenging because the rector, who has ultimate oversight in all things related to public worship, should strive to not micromanage their church musician, but supply pastoral leadership, formation, and direction while providing creative space for them in their particular giftedness.  On the other hand, musicians are called to submit to the spiritual leadership of their rector and to be continually learning how to more effectively express and lead worship within the liturgical Anglican context.  Both rectors and church musicians often carry significant egos, pride, and territorial aspects to their leadership.  I hope to provide here some collected insight and wisdom for better navigating this important relationship in the life of the church.

First, both leaders must admit their sinful nature coupled to their vocations.  It expresses itself in different ways, but rectors and church musicians must take ownership.  This is the only way for leaders to extend grace to one another.  When we are honest with ourselves and each other, grace frees us to receive criticism or correction without us breaking down or becoming defensive. 

Second, grace shapes relationships towards humility.  As it relates to sacred music, this means that we are not performers singing or playing for the entertainment of the congregation or our own self aggrandizement.  Grace can free us from this performance mentality, and open the doors toward humble service in guiding God’s people to sing.  As Anglicans, we work to design our worship spaces to reflect all this.  So in this light, I believe the guitarist or Praise Team should not be front and center, as that space in liturgical worship is reserved for the Table of the Lord.  This is where together the rector and church musician can be creative when it comes to the layout of the worship space.  We need to ask, how can our space, our music, our prayers, our posture, and our movements draw us toward the Gospel communicated to us in Word and sacrament? 

Finally, three questions should be asked between rectors and church musicians.  First, can our people sing this music?  This is where musicians, especially those inclined toward contemporary music need guidance.  As good as it sounds on the radio, when the music was composed for soloists and the people cannot sing the songs presented, things can quickly flip from congregational song into entertainment by the Praise Team. 

Second, does the music connect us to the rhythms of the liturgy and the Church Calendar?  We are Anglicans, and in our liturgical life together we worship with particular rhythms and seasons in mind.  Rectors and church musicians can collaborate in the creativity and theological imagination of the seasons, where the music can provide particular focus and attention. 

Third, does our music lead us to the Word and sacrament?  This is about keeping the main thing the main thing.  The bulk of our liturgy is Scripture, leading us to hear the Gospel proclaimed in the pulpit.  What is the relationship between the music with the Scriptures or how it might flow into the sermon?  But what is just as important is how music draws us toward the sacrament of Holy Communion.  Music stirs the heart, and literally opens our palms to receive the gifts of God for the people of God.  If rectors and church musicians can orient worship around the Word and sacrament, they will begin to offer a ministry that is bigger than themselves and further beautify our worship all to the glory of God. 

I hope that these have been helpful suggestions and wisdom for both rectors and church musicians as they move forward in their own ministries. And ultimately, I pray that these suggestions will increase the health of all of our congregations.       

The Reverend Joe Gasbarre (Parish Catechist) Christ Church Anglican (1733) Savannah, GA

From the MUSIC LEADERSHIP PHILOSOPHY page, an interview with Music Task Force chair Mark Williams

Mark, what is a good philosophy for the relationship between the church’s priest and the musician?

Well, let me be very up front about this.  I believe that one of the most significant relationships within a church is that of the relationship between the principal priest and the chief musician.  I wrote my graduate thesis on this topic and this statement has proven itself out time and again in my 35 plus years of ministry.  When this relationship is loving, trusting, and healthy then what goes on at “the two ends of the room in worship” can enable the work of worship to thrive.  When it is not loving, trusting, and healthy, much poverty can ensue and the congregation will know it…they will sense it. 

Among the most effective means toward building trust and teamwork in this important relationship are: a commitment to no surprises, setting aside a time to meet each week, or with regularity, and keeping channels of communication both friendly and open. It is also good to meet to get to know one another on a caring and more personal basis as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Have a meal together.

Furthermore, establishing and communicating what fundamental ideals you are committed to in common can be critical to building trust and teamwork. This so that you can become partners working toward similar goals (e.g. we are both committed to working toward excellence in liturgical worship and to bringing our first fruits to the table.  We are both committed to the music in worship being a means to the greater end of worshipping the Lord rather than an end in itself or for self-aggrandizement.  We are both committed to choosing music appropriate to the church year and the liturgy for the day.  We are both committed to building a trusting relationship with no surprises, etc.).  

Additionally, show public support for one another at all times.  No matter how difficult, it will always pay off to communicate concerns in private, not in public, and never through impersonal and often misunderstood emails or letters.  And finally, one can never discount the importance of maintaining a sense of humor; for usually where there is joy, there is Christ!

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