About this blogger:
Richard J. Clark is the Director of Music of the Archdiocese of Boston and the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. He is also Chapel Organist (Saint Mary’s Chapel) at Boston College. His compositions have been performed worldwide.
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It should be borne in mind that there is no preference expressed in the liturgical legislation for either “versus populum” or “ad orientem.” Since both positions enjoy the favor of law, the legislation may not be invoked to say that one position or the other accords more closely with the mind of the Church.
— Congregation for Divine Worship (Vatican City), 10 April 2000

Musicians in Collaborative Parishes • Sharing Best Practices
published 23 November 2018 by Richard J. Clark

RJC_StCeciliaAngel HERE IS NO shortage of challenge in pastoral ministry. This is an understatement of a lifetime! Then why do we do it? Perhaps because parish work, despite its potential obstacles, is among the most rewarding.

Among such challenges faced in the Archdiocese of Boston (and well beyond) are a shortage of priests, shifting demographics, decline in attendance, and the subsequent reorganization of parish governance. Boston, like many other dioceses, has faced painful parish closings. Now Boston is several years into the formation of “collaboratives” in the Disciples in Mission program.

As a result, many priests, parish staffs, and musicians are doing their jobs in ways they have never had to do before. And there is no simple precedent or roadmap. Such uncharted territory heightens our calling to serve.

The Archdiocese of Boston’s Secretariat for Evangelization and Discipleship is offering several evening sessions on Forming Collaboratives for Mission. Download dates and locations here.

N EVENT FOR MUSICIANS on this paramount topic of collaboratives was recently held at St. Catherine Parish in Westford. Sponsored by the Boston Chapter of The National Association of Pastoral Musicians, it was presented by Kelly Clark (no relation), Director of Music of the St. Anne – St. Catherine Collaborative. Her presentation focused on sharing “Best Practices” with an understanding that it is a process to discover what works best (and what doesn’t work). Ultimately, she offered a valuable list of considerations that have universal value and can be applied to most any pastoral ministry.

To start—What is a collaborative? According to Disciples in Mission it is:

two or three parishes who share:

A Pastor
A Pastoral Team
A Collaborative Pastoral Council
A Local Pastoral Plan – approved 2016

But, who maintain their own:

assets and obligations
buildings (including churches)
Parish Finance Council

THAT’S A RATHER BROAD description, and of course each parish (and collaborative) is highly unique, each with distinct gifts and challenges. Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all plan for success.

However, I will highlight the discussion points Kelly Clark brought forth. Born from critical experience of guiding two communities together (after leading one of them for many years), she can speak to many necessary adjustments that came along the way. Her discussion points are worthy of ongoing reflection!

In doing so she was very honest about learning from mistakes, making adjustments appropriate for their collaborative, and addressing problems as they arose. (See No. 10.) I also share my own thoughts and reflections on each topic. (Each is worthy of its own article!) Of course you will have your own. I invite you to e-mail me if you wish to share your thoughts of what succeeds and how to avoid pitfalls.


1. PLANNING FOR WHAT WORKS • Bringing multiple communities together who have disparate histories and backgrounds may take years to achieve. Planning for “what works” will take time—trial and error. One might begin with pragmatic elements, such as convenient rehearsal times, exploring shared repertoire, distributing and utilizing musicians, singers, and resources more effectively, if not always perfectly evenly. Burnout for the Director is inevitable if planning and administration is not streamlined to some degree!

2. FLEXIBILITY • This is a skill all musicians must have to succeed and survive. The Catholic Church is no exception. There is a demand for a diversity of not only musical skills, but also flexibility in personal skills.

3. AVOIDING OWNERSHIP • This is a tough one. Kelly Clark admits this also applies to the music director(s). (again See #10) Parishioners who have volunteered for years (if not decades) often have a healthy ownership. But when communities shift, letting go of some ownership is a necessity for growth. The same goes for Music Directors who may have spent years (if not decades) developing a program that now must face change or adaptaion.

4. ADDRESSING CHALLENGING SITUATIONS/BEHAVIORS • Whenever there is change, people are in great emotional pain. Give them leeway and don’t judge. A closed parish or a parish that enters in to a collaborative with a new pastor can feel as painful as a death in the family. Hopefully, this will lead to new growth and opportunity, but this will take time.

However, problems may persist that need attention. (Problems may arise with No. 3.) Also it is easy for one parish to feel slighted or neglected if there is a larger and perhaps more dominant parish in a collaborative. This can lead to mounting tensions.

Such tensions can only be resolved by strong leadership from the pastor. A music director may have to be the one to address a problem, but can only do so with the trust and full backing of the pastor. Without it, a music director’s authority is compromised which can lead to additional difficulties. Likewise, addressing problems should only occur after a personal meeting and a thoughtful and respectful discussion with the pastor.

In all of this, a music director must draw upon pastoral and personal skills they perhaps never needed before. One will need to learn as much about human nature as music!

5. RUNNING EFFICIENT REHEARSALS • Respect people’s time! They will love you for it and keep coming back! Be prepared musically and administratively for each rehearsal. Have a rehearsal plan that budgets time for each piece. This is helpful even if there is necessary deviation. (I’m writing this to remind myself…)

6. PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS • “All politics is local.” No truer words! Key to leadership is the development of respectful and appropriate relationships. All effective leadership depends largely on the emotional wellbeing and motivation of those under our direction. And truly, why do we do what we do if not to be in service to our communities?

7. MENTORSHIP (especially youth) • All we do is with an eye towards development—for the present and for the future. Never underestimate the intelligence of our children, i.e., never “dumb it down.” As a father of four, I can assure you, they are absorbing our examples (good or otherwise) whether they appear to be paying attention or not.

8. PRAYER AND FELLOWSHIP • There are few bonds stronger than those we make music with. And those we pray with—in song? Such bonds might never broken.

9. CONTINUED FORMATION • Always plan, direct, and teach with an eye towards development—personal, spiritual, and musical.

10. HUMOR AND HUMILITY • Life is too short to get bent out of shape about a great many things. That is not to mean we don’t care about the integrity of the sacred liturgy. But a bit of humor and levity offer can offer much needed perspective at the right moments. It is so important to have fun, be joyful and grateful for your fellow musicians and parishioners. For without them, we accomplish nothing.

INALLY, IT IS IMPORTANT to recognize how vital the Pastor’s leadership is for a collaborative to succeed, no less to keep his own health. The job of any pastor is one of the hardest and most stressful anywhere. They must be all things to all people. They receive training in theology, etc., and then must know how to manage ancient crumbling edifices and juggle disparate personalities on staff.

A pastor must develop and hire staff he can trust. (This may be a process of years to hire the right staff.) They may need to macro-manage more than they might like. They need a strong emotional support from their own friends and family. Pray for your pastors! We should be concerned about them and especially those responsible for multiple parishes.

We have an obligation to create an environment for our music ministers of prayer, joy, and gratitude, while striving for excellence with the resources at our disposal. In doing so, know that you will affect people and change their lives for the better—usually without ever knowing it. Know this and believe it.

THIS CONVERSATION IS ONLY A BEGINNING. There will be struggles—plenty—and perhaps there is no light at the end of the tunnel. But these struggles are the crucible through which we learn to serve God and each other better.

Soli Deo gloria