Ministers and Musicians: Allies or Adversaries?

By Banks, Adelle M. | The Christian Century, November 14, 2012 | Go to article overview

Ministers and Musicians: Allies or Adversaries?


Banks, Adelle M., The Christian Century


Eileen Guenther, the national president of the American Guild of Organists, reveals behind-the-scenes church struggles in her new book, Rivals or a Team? Clergy-Musician Relationships in the Twenty-First Century.

Guenther, an associate professor of church music at Washington's Wesley Theological Seminary and the former organist at Foundry United Methodist Church, talked with Religion News Service about her findings and advice. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You titled your book Rivals or a Team? From your research, which is a better description of most clergy-musician relationships?

A: I would say that rivals may well be the most prevalent description, but team is our aspiration.

Q: Why is it sometimes so difficult for musicians and ministers to get along and not have an intense rivalry?

A: Part of it is lack of understanding of roles. Part of it is control. Each of us is used to kind of being in control in our area, but sometimes if the roles haven't been clarified, the control issues become simply that, rather than sorting out, for example, the issue of "OK, who's going to choose the hymn?" That's one of the really big issues.

Q: Who should choose the hymns?

A: It should be done collaboratively. I'm just so into collaborating among staff members and with clergy. We have two services at Wesley and both of them are team planned, with teams from five to ten each. If liturgy is the work of people, then the planning of the liturgy needs not to be done in somebody's office alone with a cup of coffee.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Q: You say that the future of the church may well be at stake if clergy and musicians don't learn to understand each other better. Is it really that dire?

A: I think it is. In general, mainline churches are having a very difficult time these days. And the role of music in worship is so critical--40 to 60 percent of a service is musical--but people can tell when things aren't going well among members of the staff.

I think everything has to be done intentionally, with collegiality and spirituality and a view of what we are all about for people to continue to attend church. …

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