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    A View from the Pew

    A Plan of Succession 

    This morning, I met a third year undergraduate piano major at Boston Conservatory School of Music. Andre told me that he occasionally serves the liturgy as a pastoral musician at St. Anthony’s Shrine in downtown Boston. His aspirations include conducting and accompanying for professional musical theater productions after he graduates. Andre expressed an interest in serving as a substitute pastoral musician as he continued his academic music career. He sat near me this morning and observed how I approached musical liturgy as I worked with the young musicians from the Colleges of the Fenway. Andre conveyed his relief and gratitude for the opportunity to monitor and learn before he stepped up behind the proverbial plate to replace me as a substitute pastoral musician when I take a week off so Pat and I can go on vacation.

    With substitute pastoral musicians at a premium, I think that the field may be in worse shape than the presbyterate. Pastors and associates cover one another. If a pastor is alone, he can draw from a pool (although it might be a wading pool) of retired priests so he can grab a little time off to rest and rejuvenate. I do feel for the priests who simultaneously administer two and three parishes. They’re in the same boat pastoral musicians seem to find themselves: we find it difficult to take a weekend off.  

    If you go away for a weekend, who replaces you within your pastoral context? I’ve heard a number of responses when I ask this question. “I’m lucky; several of us in the parish cover one another.” I can never take time off; I can never seem to find anyone to replace me.” “A couple of young people who can lead song without accompaniment pitch in when I need them to.” “Father leads the music from the altar.”

    The whole experience started me thinking about our plan of succession for future generations of lay ecclesial ministers with particular attention on those pastoral ministers who serve as directors of music ministries. Who do we invite into music ministry to teach, mentor and encourage? Take a look at your own music department. Might there be someone who emerges as a potential pastoral musician? If you direct a department of music ministry, do you serve as an inspiration for a young person who may consider a call in the work of pastoral music ministry by meeting the core requirements that define our role as vocation and profession? What’s your plan of succession for the future of music ministry in your school, parish, hospital or other pastoral context?

    The core requirements for directors of music ministries as outlined by the Core Certification Standard and Competencies of the Director of Music Ministries were created and summarized by the National Association for Lay Ministry (NALM), the National Conference for Catholic Leadership (NCCL), and the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry and collaboratively developed by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM) for those who serve the liturgy as pastoral musicians. All of the requirements were subsequently approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Commission on Certification and Accreditation (USCCB CCA).

    The Alliance set five standards for music directors. Each contain vision statements with a subsequent breakdown of each standard that includes elements of spiritual and personal maturity, identification and discernment of the call to the vocation of ministry, professional and personal ethics, professional training in the fields of liturgy, music and theology, and pastoral and professional praxis. The criteria sketches a framework for employers to determine job descriptions and salary guidelines for pastoral musicians who direct departments of music ministries.

    Surprised to find out that such standards exist? Well, they do. And they matter. You can find them on the NPM website at Find DMMD Division in the left column and click on Standards. I think of them as a basic standard requirement because I really believe that’s what our people deserve. However, if does raise some issues.

    If you started working as a pastoral minister in the mid-sixties like I did (and I can’t believe that I just admitted that!), no one trained you for this work. The profession as we know it did not exist. We sharecropped the way from the vision set at Vatican II and created lay ecclesial ministry out of our love for the church. We learned on the job, held hands and taught one another what we knew, shared our dreams, our hopes, and our vision for what the church could be and birthed what we now know as lay ecclesial ministry in a myriad of ways. Where do we take it from here?

    Invite, train and support young people within your own context to continue what we began. Young people want nothing more than someone to pay attention to them, acknowledge their gifts, inspire them to serve people and mentor them when they show interest in ministry. They expect their leaders to invite them personally, communicate with them and show up within their personal lives as adults who care and invest time and interest in them. An invitation is a face to face meeting that you initiate. Communication means texting;  young people don’t email and rarely respond to them. Showing up for these young folks means that if they get a part in a musical, play a sport or frequent a coffee shop or pub in your town or city, you go there to meet them.

    I can hear the protests from here. Time and sacrifice. Well, think back. Can you name a person who did the same thing for you and encouraged you as a pastoral minister? Do you think that this person didn’t invest time or sacrifice their personal lives to draw you into ministry, to mentor and guide you and journey with you as learned and grew in your expertise of the work and grew in your own spirituality? Did you ever asked them what it might of cost them in terms of time and sacrifice to act on your behalf? That’s the kind of hands on ministry that I’m talking about. That’s discipleship. And don’t think that some of it won’t sting because it will. Take a good look at the cross. A Jesuit mentor and friend once said to me, “If you’re not wearing the bruises of liturgy, then it’s not liturgy.”

    Our plan of succession depends on how much effort we put into educating the next generation of pastoral musicians and lay ecclesial ministers. Lent begins this week. Perhaps we could begin a prayer of succession along with a plan of action that includes seeking and finding just one young person to summon and nurture in liturgical ministry throughout the next six weeks. You never know who may be waiting for your invitation.