Sunday, January 24, 2010

Church / work borders at a religious institution

I go to a church with EXCELLENT music. REALLY, REALLY GOOD music. The organ, the choir, the congregation, the special small groups. No really, you have to understand... but I could "out" myself with more details.

I sing in the choir, and have been singing in volunteer church choirs for about 8 years now. I'm a fine musician, but not great. I'd give myself a solid B. Nonetheless, I've never been asked to participate in any music that was hand picked by the music director (primarily the special small groups). Our church has the ability to select from quite a range of very good musicians, and so the B-level musicians never get a thought. In fact, no one can figure out how the musicians for the small groups are chosen, but they are often they same ones over and over. They are good musicians, but the music they do is not THAT challenging. Us B-ers would do just fine up there.

There was a sign up sheet passed around for general congregants who would like to participate in special music, but as far as anyone can tell, no one who signed up has ever been asked. I have bitched about the "exclusiveness" and "non-transparency" of the church music groups to my friends.

My work colleagues often gather for lunch weekdays. The conversation at lunch on Friday drifted to my favorite sore spot. This is not unusual to discuss church things at work, because almost all of my colleagues go to _A_ church, many go to a church in the _same denomination_ as the school (as I), and a good chunk of my colleagues go to _MY_ church. The music was apparently a hot topic, with a lot of whining involved (mine and others). The secretary, in her kind but "cut-the-crap" way said, "... and just what are you going to do about it?" Well, she pinned me down until I agreed to talk to the music director directly instead of whining and doing nothing about it.

So I did today. I said, "please consider me for a small group." I said "please consider others for small groups other than the usual small cadre of favorites." I said, "please check the volunteer sign-ups and call those people. There are a lot of people who may be thinking, I volunteered, but they didn't call me, so they must not think I'm good enough. I mean if you have a deep bench why play your starters for the whole game? Besides, a church is NOT THE PLACE FOR EXCLUSION, no matter what."

I felt liberated saying that. Why should you care? One point of that story was that I hate victim-y attitudes, and find it in myself occasionally. I was very happy to have the push to get out of that attitude in this case. Thanks, secretary.

But what may be more of interest to you is the idea that I go to church with many of my colleagues. This is totally weird, in my world view where professional and private are separate lives. Moreover, I go to the church that is favored by people in the administration, so The Pres and the Provost sing together with me on Sundays. It took some adjustment, but its totally normal now. I certainly didn't choose my church for political reasons.

I have heard stories how its hard to fire the guy you read the Bible with (!), but sometimes it must be done. The university is constantly struggling with the line between being a community of believers in which everyone is valued, and having standards and doing what it takes to keep the standards high. I have always been educated at secular institutions, so the whole idea is foreign to me, but let me reiterate: I am so happy that my colleagues and the institution have an overall culture of respect and truthful kindness. They are healthy, happy people who care about justice in the world. So I'll take the weirdness that goes along with working at a religious institution for the benefits.

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