About two months ago our choir director came up to me after church and said, with some extreme agitation, that he was hoping we could hire some section leaders for the church choir.
The choir is composed mostly of older members of the congregation... who still have lovely voices, I hasten to add. But an illness here or an injury there can decimate a section. We have three men total, one bass and two tenors. The bass is married to a lovely soprano who is slipping into dementia, and who requires the assistance of two other sopranos to get through rehearsals and services: the way in which all these women care for one another is stunning, and very moving. There are three sopranos, four altos, and that's it. Our best soprano has been out for about two months with a serious back injury (she is having surgery even as I type this).
Our choir director feels that it is increasingly difficult to do good music with the resources he has available. He is looking for (what in my opinion is) and extremely modest amount of money to accomplish this, through the hiring of four section leaders.
Session approved a trail period of this plan two months ago. Due to the holidays, he hasn't been able to find anyone (or perhaps due to that modest amount?) so far. Last night session voted to extend the trial period, but not before a significant debate, lasting nearly a half hour. The first issue raised was the choir: how would they feel about it? Is this embarrassing, or do they feel like they're being replaced or shoved to the side? Testimony from a session member who is an alto put this concern to rest. The choir is grateful.
Concern number two took me by surprise. It goes something like this: When I hear the choir, I value knowing that they are members of this community. If we are paying section leaders, there will be folks up there who are not members of this community. What if someone up there is an atheist, just there for the paycheck?
I hardly know where to begin to address this concern. (One session member suggested, well, we might be in a position to, you know, have an affect on the person's atheism.) And I was surprised by the vehemence with which it was raised. There was heat behind this concern. There was anger. And a promise that it "will be raised at the annual meeting."
The session members, in their debate, offered many good arguments in favor of having the section leaders, including the importance of a strong music program for attracting new members. I intend to ask them to be present front and center when and if questions are raised at the annual meeting, to give their own answers as to why the session voted unanimously to approve this. Twice.
So... anyone out there with any experience in this area? Do you serve a church that made this decision? How did the congregation respond? How did it work for the choir? And, finally, any good suggestions on delicate and community building theological arguments in favor? (Only kind of kidding.)
I await your wisdom.