Archive for January, 2014


January 21, 2014

More like trial by endurance.

A friend remarked that he could think of a dozen things he’d rather do than sit through a day hearing a church choir singing all 720 hymns from the Episcopal Church’s 1982 Hymnal. Ok. For me, this was a kind of superb dream rather than a nightmare.

As a member of the Portland, Oregon, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral choir, I had the chance to participate in what was termed a “Hymnathon,” a fund raiser for the choir’s summer trip to Bristol, England, to sub for the choir of the cathedral of the same name.

I love singing hymns. Not just any hymns, and not what are often called spiritual songs. I love the ancient hymns of the church. And as I get to know them, I also am finding that I like the newer hymns of the church. Some of them.

I especially like the ones that are based on chorales, or hymns in four parts. I can sing fairly well three of those parts. I am a natural (second) tenor, but one who has a baritone voice. I can also sing the melody, or soprano line (an octave low). I can’t manage the alto line at the same pitch as they, though I once could. Above a g, and I’m totally in my head, and I can hardly hear myself, an inaudability for which real altos are highly grateful.

Some of the 720 hymns should never have made it into the hymnal. Congregations have largely ignored them, and certainly never include them in Sunday worship.

Some of the most beloved hymns shouldn’t be in the hymnal either, but we’ll never get them out of there as long as real people are doing the singing. One of the best things about hymns is that they are church music of, by, and for the people. Hymn singing is worship, not a performance. How wonderful to hear a congregation of people singing their praise of God.

As we stood for the last hymn in the book, one we have come to know as The National Anthem, we struggled through it as does everyone, but on our feet in immense gratitude for the church, for its music, and for the opportunity to spend an entire day in musical praise of God.



January 9, 2014

Bob Bly, a writing coach, has made an observation that I think is right on.

He says that a writer’s readers fall in a 10%-80%-10% division. That is, as he describes, 10% of one’s readers will love anything you write. 80% judge your writing on its merits and its application to their lives. The final 10% neither like you nor anything you write.

I suspect that this observation is applicable to the ordained ministry. If so, it might go something like this: 10% of your congregation are in love with you and think you are just wonderful. Your sermons are all magnificent. They hang on everything you say, laughing at all your jokes and praising you to anyone who will listen.

80% of your congregation think you are all right, but they engage their minds when evaluating your work. They have a rather clear view of your strengths and weaknesses, and will as likely say no to your requests to serve on parish committees as yes.

The final 10% don’t care for you, and nothing you can do or say will change their minds. Maybe you weren’t their choice for the position, and they are still resentful that their favorite candidate didn’t make the cut. Maybe they took offense at an offhand comment that to you was a minor oversight. Maybe your personality rubs them the wrong way.

So here’s the question for us clergy: Why do we pay so much attention to the last 10%? Wouldn’t our efforts be better directed to pleasing the 80% whose perspective we should value?

Like you, I have stood at the door after church, hearing comments on my preaching. One critical comment stays with me all day, while the many favorable comments are soon forgotten.

I like Mr. Bly’s analysis of how the readership of his writing tend to be. I suspect that such is true for the work of us parish clergy as well.




January 6, 2014

I see that aspirants for holy orders in the Episcopal Church are finishing up an often frightening requirement for full entrance into the ordained ministry: General Ordination Exams, often referred to as the dreaded GOE’s.

Way back a thousand years ago (actually 40 some) I remember clearly taking the exams. In those primitive days, each diocese devised its own set of exams, and, of course, there was no internet to speak of. We typed our essay answers to the questions at home, and after revising and editing a hundred times, put them in a big envelope and walked or drove to the post office and put them in the mail with a wing and a prayer. Several weeks later our work was reviewed by the Board of Examining Chaplains and then, win or lose, we went out for (several) drinks to celebrate or grieve.

Since each diocese did its own, we of course believed that our diocese had the roughest exams, followed by even rougher examiners. I remember¬† sitting at the dining table in the house provided by my first parish as a curate (St. John’s Episcopal Church, Olympia, Washington), sweating heavily over the church history exam. The others were somewhat less scary.

All that heavy paper and typewriter ribbon has now been replaced by the much cleaner internet communication, allowing for last-minute revisions and edits. But the fear and anxiety anticipating the exams live on, to be sure.

I wonder how I would do faced with the set of exams today? I may have forgotten many of the details, but I suspect I would do more than all right with the bigger picture. Over forty years of practice in the ministry of the church surely ought to count for something.

Best wishes to the younger clergy coming along. Regardless of how well you do on these exams, chances are you will be a bright and shining star in the leadership of today’s and tomorrow’s church. I’m awfully glad you are here.