[Disclaimer: the following was written in 2003 for a column entitled “Peril in the Pulpit” in a publication now defunct. (Not totally my fault.) Maybe this is copyrighted material. Maybe not. ]

Her name was Grace, though she carried herself with all the hard veneer of a decorated Marine officer. She was a church musician: organist, choir director, bell conductor, and Orff-master (who was so enthusiastic about those Orff percussion instruments that she personally bought them for the church). She had very definite ideas about church music, and spoke up with authority when the clergy staff made wrong-headed suggestions about music’s place in worship.
During a wedding rehearsal, the pastor suggested that while the bride and groom moved from the main sanctuary level to the upper chancel area, Grace could provide some “moving music” on the organ. “Like what, exactly?” she inquired, knowing precisely what the pastor was about to say.

“Oh, nothing in particular; just play a little something as we walk.”

“I’ve got a better idea,” Grace replied. “Why don’t you just mumble a little something as you walk.”

Grace played in a church that had movable seating. On the Sunday of the Annual Congregational Meeting, Grace had prepared a rousing postlude that she thought would provide a good transition from the worship benediction to the coffee hour while the sanctuary was transformed into a dining hall. But after the benediction, with her well-rehearsed postlude barely begun, the ushers were already stacking chairs and setting up tables with such commotion that Grace abruptly stopped playing, jumped from the organ bench, and stomped out of the room. I believe it was the following Sunday that the church began a long tradition of remaining seated until the last notes, the very last notes, of the postlude had gone to heaven.

Church musicians. Can we speak freely here, with tongue in cheek? Aren’t they a pain in the apse? I mean, we preachers might choose a text on Tuesday, study and pray and write all week, and deliver an original work of sermon art on time every Sunday. All the musician does is play what someone else has already written, and often it’s something already performed many times in the past. We are the ones who have to accomplish our work in a week’s time, but they are the ones who insist on months of planning. Good grief; we’ve barely gotten into Lent, and the musician is already fretting about what we have planned (um, nothing yet) for Pentecost Sunday!

When the service goes a little long, doesn’t it make sense to omit a hymn verse or two? And then the musician points out that dropping the last verse of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” seems to leave the devil in charge, or that singing only verses 1 and 3 of a hymn about the Trinity seems to leave someone out. Picky, huh? Speaking of “A Mighty Fortress…” What’s wrong with this picture: the organist has chosen Johann Walther’s arrangement as the uplifting postlude for a funeral, but the family is asking if there’s any way to weave a few bars of “The Yellow Rose of Texas” into it? Seems a nice tribute to the departed. Grace stomps away again.

Now, an important disclaimer. I have been married to a talented church musician for over 41 years. Joan and I are deeply in love. But we have never worked in the same church. I’ll bet you’re not surprised.

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