I’ve been an ordained “Teaching Elder” (formerly known as Minister of Word and Sacrament) for 19 years . I have done ministry at the national office of my denomination, supply preached in tiny churches, done oodles of Presbytery committee work, and pastored two churches. I have also worked for several kinds of businesses, and a couple of non-profit agencies, and am doing hospice chaplaincy. I’ve seen a lot in my 19 years of professional ministry. I have collection of stories that show the best and worst of humanity. I have seen “issues” present themselves in unique ways and helped people get to the root issue, which is 99% of the time not the “Issue” that is presented or identified as the original issue.
This past Sunday the patriarch of the church I am currently pastoring, (you know the most senior male member of the congregation that holds the most implicit power and blue chips; he is the person that really calls the shots about what happens in the church.) came to me and informed me that my husband sings too loud and a ‘family’ (not identified in the conversation) has started to attend a nearby church because my husband sings too loud. The patriarch told me that he might be able to convince this “family” to return to our church if my husband would not sing so loud in worship. I was asked by the patriarch, who I was really surprised allowed himself to get triangle, to speak with my husband about his singing. My response to the comment about my husband’s singing too loud and being a hindrance to this un-identified family was “oh really.” And I did agree to speak with my husband, pointing out that it would be a ‘difficult’ conversation. The patriarch did acknowledge that it would be a ‘difficult’ conversation, and it was.
You see my husband has a lovely tenor voice. He was part of an elite singing group in his High School (The Blue and Gold singers) at William Chrisman High School. People are always complementing him on his voice. He has done solo work, sang at weddings, and is often asked to join the choir anytime we visit a church. I know that his SINGING IS NOT THE ISSUE.
I did have a conversation with my husband and because singing is such an integral part of who he is and how he worships, he has now made a conscious choice to not come back to worship at the congregation where I pastor. He will be looking for a new place to worship where he can sing and worship and not hinder the participation in worship of others.
As I said, SINGING IS NOT THE ISSUE, and this whole situation raised for me some serious theological and spiritual issues that I will need to work with my congregation to resolve and hopefully grow the congregation in spiritual maturity.
I am concerned that in speaking with my husband about his singing (which we both believe to be a non issue), I too have been triangled. Although I am not happy with the fact that the ‘solution’ to this problem is for my husband to worship apart from me on Sundays, I know he must do this for his spiritual health, lest he become a stumbling block to another’s faith journey . The Apostle Paul talks about this in terms of food in Romans 14: 12-23, and if the concept is applied to this particular situation, there is no other option except for my husband to graciously find a community where his singing will not cause a brother or sister to stumble or hinder their worship of Christ. So this is the answer I will be giving when people ask me where my husband is on Sunday and why he is not at any other church activity.
Now as we all probably know my husband’s SINGING IS NOT THE ISSUE. The issue is something else, and the fact that my husband and his singing will be absent from the congregation, there will be an opportunity to explore why such a petty thing is the reason for not attending a church where you have been a member for a long time. It will also give me the opportunity as pastor to address the basics of what it means to live in Christian community with one another, even people who sing the praises of God loudly and with conviction.
I have come to have a great appreciation for the Apostle Paul this past week, as I realize that issues addressed by Paul in his letters to the churches address real issues in congregations today and the issues of human pettiness that were alive and well in the early years of the Christian Church continue to be alive and well today. Pray for us pastors as we seek to live in community with people who don’t always want to live in community with others, especially those who Sings Too Loud.