Tuesday, February 01, 2005
On AmonymityMy goodness, a secondary comment on anonymous complaints sure has touched a nerve. Liam suggested that people opt for anonymity because they would not want to appear too influential. I admit I had never considered that before. I'd be concerned if the pastor was anonymous. My current pastor was concerned that I was taking one anonymous letter I shared with him too seriously. Jayne made this suggestion: This should tell you a lot about how you strike your fellow parishioners: it is your little fiefdom and you rule. Nothing you have ever written suggests that you feel a sense of service to the congregation. Everything you write indicates a sense of self-important imposition of your will on others; you might say "reeks of egoism". If it were just you, it would be laughable and pathetic. Unfortunately, your attitude is characteristic of a kind of a cult that is driving more Catholics out of the church than anything else. Which seems to read a good lot more into my essays and posts here than is warranted. It bothered me. For starters, I don't think my blog is an extension of parish ministry. I'm part of a forum. I can be one smart ass among many--and maybe that's a poor choice on my part. But the patience demanded by good ministry is not as strong an aspect of what I write here. My parishioners, anonymous or otherwise, have a right to judge if my ministry is genuine or a petty fiefdom. If you don't know me, what you might say about my service to the Church, good or ill, is speculation. As I said before, I take all complaints seriously. I miswrote in saying anonymity is "usual;" it happens frequently to occasionally. Sometimes people offer praise or gratitude anonymously. Most often, a complaint sees a problem from one viewpoint. As a minister, I have to balance the needs and views of many. Sometimes I have to sacrifice the notion of perfection, or even competence, because other demands are judged more vital, or because the long-term picture means some aspect in the present will suffer. Let me offer you this dilemma, which has netted complaints, though all non-anonymous so far. Tell me how you would resolve it: Before I arrived, our parish had a practice of putting all major musical resources into one Mass. A second Mass has a volunteer "folk group" of about thirty years, a small choir with instruments. An early third Mass had music leadership only during Advent-Christmas and Lent-Easter. The other three Masses had hired cantors, mostly non-parishioners. In my first year, when budget time rolled around, liturgy was asked to cut $7000 from its budget. I brought the budget process to the committee, and we saw no way to avoid making substantial trims in the budget for musicians for hire, especially cantors. Some music people serve on this committee, by the way, so the decisions weren't made in total vacuum. One cantor was "let go" at the end of that fiscal year, and the second, whom we retained, has recently taken a leave for personal reasons. To the person in the pew, they note a drop in the quality of singing. The folks at the 12 noon Mass, for example, love it when the children's choir sings twice a year. But the other Sundays without my new choirs have seen a definite decline. I certainly have it in my short-term power to resolve this. I can start hiring cantors from outside of the parish--and believe me, I know a good handful of them available to help. I would need to explain to my manager and pastor, no doubt, why I overspent my budget at year's end, but that's tomorrow's problem, in one opinion. A person is upset about the dropoff in quality and accuses me of doing nothing, and to their eyes, this is correct. I have yet to find skilled parishioners willing to sing that Mass--most all of the best parish singers sing in the big choir. With the people who write me or approach me face to face, I can explain the situation. They get a sense of being in a conversation with a real person who has a real dilemma. They might realize I coach our new cantors and these folks try their best, but the result isn't up to previous standards. I might be pleased that the new guy makes eye contact when announcing songs or backs away from the mic on the Mass ordinary. The question turns from, "Why can't you get us a good singer?" to "What should the parish priority be: budget or competence, volunteer or paid, skill or a person able to grow into the role?" Many anonymous comments touch on issues more complex than the mere complaint. Why did the priest give a subpar homily? Maybe he ran out of time or ideas or maybe he was lazy. Why did that horrible hymn get programmed again? Maybe because the music ministry was asked to focus on bolstering the repertoire of psalmody this year instead of hymnody. Is it possible the liturgist, pastor, or music director is just an ignorant snot playing at being a puppeteer? It's possible. Do you know for sure? Maybe you don't. Catechism 2478 gives us a clue: "To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way." I have edited my comment boxes here only once, and I'm grateful for not having a mainstream blog in which I would need to be more careful in monitoring submissions. Many comments which have been more personal, in my opinion, and I respond by e-mail if it's provided if that seems more appropriate. I found a few of the comments on the Liturgical Music essay to border on inappropriate, at least from Catholic teaching. I honestly appreciate the frustration I read and hear: here and in my parish. It would be an error to presume I don't care. If you think it helps your state of mind to skirt the fringes of civility with me, go ahead. If it bothers me, I'll tell you. But I'll let a lot of it stand that I would not tolerate if it were directed at third parties. Liam's wisdom aside (and I don't set his commentary aside for just any reason) anonymity is a dangerous route to go. If I have a complaint, I own it. If I'm unwilling to sign my name to an opinion, I won't offer it. But if a person offers something to me anonymously, I will treat it seriously, as its nature deserves. But there is rarely a sense of satisfaction I can offer, as I might in a conversation. I stand by my distrust of anonymity in parish complaints. I was overly strong in what I wrote in my own comment boxes. My two immediate predecessors were very difficult people, though probably the most talented musicians and liturgists this parish ever hired. How people treated me at first was possibly more a reflection on them than me. Over time, this has changed, which is a relief and a source of gratitude.