Magazine article Pastoral Music

The Movable Feast: Life as a Director of Music Ministries Serving Military Parishes

Magazine article Pastoral Music

The Movable Feast: Life as a Director of Music Ministries Serving Military Parishes

Article excerpt

The Mass, heart of our liturgical life, is a feast in which we gather as community. The ritual of Mass is essentially the same throughout the world, a celebration of and an act of communion with the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are reminded of this mystery when we sing Father Michael Joncas' text "We Come to Your Feast" (1994). In spite of the universality of this key ritual, there are many differences in the way we worship as communities. Many of you reading this live and work in a faith community that is relatively stable, with people staying in the parish for some time: growing up, getting married, having families, growing old. (In today's mobile society, there may be less of this settling into one place, but trust me, frequent movement in the wider culture is very slow compared to the movement associated with military life.) In other words, many of you live in an average "civilian" parish. Now that word "civilian" used as a description for a parish community may sound strange or funny to you, but to those of us associated with the United States Armed Forces, words like "active-duty" and "civilians" carry powerful images. In contrast to parish life familiar to many of you, life in the military is much different.

Be Adaptable

One key word associated with the job of a military person or the member of a military family is adaptability. The very nature of the military requires the ability to handle change and mobility. Military personnel, both officers and enlisted, must be flexible, agile, and always ready to deal with the unexpected, if they are to succeed in their careers. Military families must be similarly prepared. The demands placed on military spouses and other family members are often just as severe as those placed on the military member. Typically, this means moving around . . . a lot. The average Army soldier tends to change duty stations roughly every eighteen months; Air Force and Navy assignments tend to be longer, about three to four years; and don't forget the relentless demands placed on our United States Marines and their families.

In many ways, the role of a director of music ministries in a military parish setting shares multiple common threads with that same role in a civilian setting. Both must deal with clergy, parish staff members, and communities of worshipers while planning liturgies that enhance the prayer life of those who assemble as the Body of Christ. There are, however, differences that can vary from location to location and present unique challenges, depending on the branch of service and the specialized mission of the installation, (e.g., operational mission, support functions, training facility, or special units - we'll come back to this). What do you do, for example, when your best cantor gets orders and moves, often on short notice? What do you do when there are twenty-five choir members at rehearsal on Tuesday and only five on Sunday because of a base-wide exercise? What do you do when your priest deploys to the Middle East, the community has a different visiting priest each weekend, you don't know who it will be, and there is no advance time for coordinating with the visiting presider?

Regardless of the color of the uniform, the point is the same: As a director of music ministries in a military parish, you can't expect to become accustomed to seeing the same faces in your pews or to hearing the same voices in your choir. One day you'll come to the chapel for Mass, and you'll look around, and those familiar faces won't be in the pews, and the familiar voices just won't be in the choir.

Not All the Same

Adaptability is the key talent that a director of music at a military parish needs to face such a "movable feast." That talent is needed not only in moving from civilian life into a military setting, but even within the military environment. Not all military installations are the same; they are usually characterized by the specialized mission of the units assigned there and, in very general terms, can be thought of in one of four categories: operational missions, training facility, support functions, or special units. …

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