Confessions of a Volunteer Church Musician in Training

Many of you might be surprised to learn that I’ve never liked my own singing voice, I’ve just gotten more comfortable with it over time. Growing up I admired people who served their churches as song leaders but I never envisioned myself in that role. I just never saw myself as an “at church every Sunday” type of guy.

I first came to St. John‘s in the year 2000 and had very infrequent attendance. When I did come, I loved the service and the people but the music was always a disappointment.

I never thought of myself as a good singer, but I enjoyed singing. I can remember opening the hymnal and trying to sing along and then closing it in frustration. No one seemed to know the songs, or if they did, they wouldn’t sing out. The one bright spot was the service music, people knew and would sing the Gloria, Sanctus, and Doxology.

Over the next five years, I moved to Lexington and back, sporadically attending some of the other diocesan churches up there and eventually coming back to St. John‘s.

Around 2005, I found myself renting an apartment beside the rectory. Being so close to the church, I figured people would come knock on my door if I didn’t show up, so I stopped making excuses for myself and began attending regularly.

I figured since I was here and no one else would sing loud enough to be heard that I’d just learn the music for myself. Our organist at the time, Dara Wooten, graciously showed up early for me each Sunday to go over the songs and did so until she passed away in 2008.

With no one in the congregation able to play and no funds to pay anyone, we invested in the Digital Hymnal that we use to this day.

It was at that time when I began working to get the songs selected. Before that, I assume Dara took care of it perhaps in conjunction with Rev John. After she passed, John, myself, and a few other singers would meet during potluck and pick music for the next month. This worked reasonably well because John was more concerned with finding songs that people could sing.

When John retired and Rev Margaret came, we formed a committee that met and tried to pick songs a month at a time. Those meetings lasted hours, were often contentious, and many times ended without all the songs for the month being chosen. Many people got their feelings hurt and it we found it was best to assign each Sunday to one person and then I would get them approved by Margaret. She liked to make sure the music and the readings matched and had strong opinions on music.

Rebecca also had strong feelings about music but was more pragmatic in her approach. Rebecca continued letting individuals pick each Sunday, though it has dwindled to only Audrey and myself picking songs.

Over the years I have asked for input many times. I’ve asked people to tell me what they like and what they’d like to hear. I’ve started lists in the parish hall for people to share songs with me. I’ve asked people, repeatedly, to pick a Sunday’s worth of songs. I’ve wandered around potluck asking for input and have received almost none. There are some who will tell me they like specific songs that we’ve sang and I appreciate that feedback but I almost never hear requests.

My goal each week besides matching songs with readings is to have a diversity of styles such that everyone can find at least one song that they like.

So what’s the problem? Why am I telling you all this? I’m concerned that I’ve lulled the church into a false sense of security. For 12 years, I’ve been there almost every Sunday to sing and for the last 9 years have made sure our music is planned. Some of you have graciously stepped up when needed to operate the digital player and I appreciate that, but as my family grows I’m going to need more help.

What do I need?

A few of you who are willing to sit and operate the player on a more regular basis.

A few of you willing to pick a Sunday’s worth of songs.

A few of you who will sing loudly enough for others to follow.

I want you to tell me what you like and what you don’t like. (Newsflash: I don’t like every song we sing either!)

As we transition into this Mutual Ministry model, we are asking for everyone’s help. Let us not fall into the trap of thinking, “someone else will take care of it.”

This post is not meant to vilify or hurt anyone’s feelings, it’s merely a recounting of where we’ve been and a request for help going forward.

Lovingly and respectfully submitted,

Billy Hibbitts

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