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Is Being a Christian a Prerequisite to being a Professional Church Organist?

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  • Is Being a Christian a Prerequisite to being a Professional Church Organist?

    This would seem logical, because you don't hear the organ in Mosques, or Buddhist temples, etc. It's
    pretty much an instrument of Christian worship. And I suspect any church would rather have its employees
    to be Christian, on the whole.

    But I'm sure there are exceptions: If someone can REALLY play the organ, better than most organists, then
    maybe a church wouldn't care too much?

  • #2
    Depends on whether the church is actually Christian or not. A good many churches are "Christian" in name only, as they do not follow God's word, but yield to the culture, approving homosexuality, abortion, etc.

    Mere competency should not be the only factor in determining whether to hire a certain organist for a church position. After all, the organist is a minister to the congregation, whether or not the church recognizes him or her as such.

    My home organ is a circa 1990 Galanti Praeludium III, with Wicks/Viscount CM-100 module supplying extra voices. I also have an Allen MDS Theatre II (princess pedalboard!) with an MDS II MIDI Expander.


    • #3
      I would say it is possible under the right circumstances to be a church's organist. Any good musician knows how to let their playing reflect the mood of the music. But there would be a fair amount of learning the details of how worship services are conducted. Even as a Christian there is a certain learning curve when one goes to a different church than you normally attend. There can be large differences between denominations and sometimes different churches within the same denomination. Musical tastes vary even if there were no theological differences. Would clergy or choir director be willing to help you adjust? For example, the week before Easter requires very somber reflective (usually minor key) say Bach's "Sacred Head Now Wounded" is often appropriate. But on Easter morning you shift, it is your chance to pull the big trumpet en charmade. Finding the right appointment could be a challenge, but not impossible for you to do.


      • #4
        No, or it least I strongly think it shouldn't be, although that is properly the decision of the congregation. The organist's job is to provide inspirational music for the purpose of worship. While this might require a knowledge of the beliefs and practices of the congregation, it does not require a personal belief in those practices.

        One of my organ teachers had the surname of Hirsch. He played at a Lutheran Church on Sundays and at a Reformed Synagogue on Saturdays (and I might add, a Hammond at an organ lounge on Saturday nights). Was he Christian or Jewish? Although the answer might surprise you, the fact is neither congregation cared because he approached and performed his job professionally and with sensitivity.

        Saying that being a Christian is a pre-requisite for being a church organist is like saying being Christian is a perquisite for singing or conducting Handel's Messiah. Even Richard Wagner, a rabid and outspoken anti-Semite, recognized such folly. His chosen conductor at Bayreuth was Hermann Levi, a rabbi's son, who conducted, among other works, the premier of Wagner's final opera, Parsifal, about the the quest for the Holy Grail and containing his famous "Good Friday Music." Wagner set aside his anti-Semitism when it came to the decision of whom would best interpret and perform his music. If you're a believer, should you not set aside such prejudices when deciding who is best suited to serve your god with music?

        Finally, whenever I hear people making judgments about who is or who is not a member of certain religion, I'm unpleasantly reminded of a quote attributed to Field Marshall Hermann Göring, "It is I who determine who is a Jew."
        Last edited by Admin; 10-17-2020, 08:28 AM.

        Allen 965
        Zuma Group Midi Keyboard Encoder
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        • #5
          Originally posted by Paul789 View Post
          It's pretty much an instrument of Christian worship. And I suspect any church would rather have its employees to be Christian, on the whole.

          But I'm sure there are exceptions: If someone can REALLY play the organ, better than most organists, then
          maybe a church wouldn't care too much?

          As you have already seen, you asked a highly sensitive question. However, the answer depends on the church. As Mike already pointed out, the term "Christian" has been interpreted to be anything from the most fundamental of beliefs, to someone who is part of a population that is NOT another religion (i.e. Jewish or Buddhist).

          Some churches expect the musicians to be spiritually as committed as the pastor of a church and will accept no substitute–even if it means they have no music, or music of a lesser quality. Other churches are fine to accept any person who can sit upright on the organ bench, while others demand perfectionism of an organist who has no beliefs or is of another religion.

          The answer, it seems, is highly dependent on the church's beliefs and what they are willing to accept, how much they're willing to compromise, or what quality they're searching for. You'll never find the answer in this Forum because we can never know the type of church you're describing, therefore, we cannot answer with any accuracy.

          Also, arguably, many do NOT think of the organ as an instrument of Christian worship, and refer to the various auditorium, symphonic, and educational organs around the world. Then there are those like me who have a number of personal instruments. For those reasons, I would not equate a particular instrument with a religion. That's like saying a trumpet is a military instrument because it is used primarily in military bands. The correlation really cannot be made with either instrument.

          Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
          • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
          • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
          • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 6 Pianos


          • #6
            The organist is part of the ministerial team. He or she should be compatible with the teachings and doctrine of the church he or she serves. For example, I am not a Mormon and I would not consider accepting an organist job in one of their churches. To me, it is a matter of integrity.


            • #7
              Though I am not a member of the LDS Church (Mormon), I was invited to play at their services. I declined, as my arthritis limits my playing extensively, but I have attended their services.

              Some congregations might insist that the organists be of their faith, but a more catholic (note lower case "c") viewpoint will not consider it a necessity.


              • #8
                Can of worms for sure! Some people are going to get bent out of shape talking about this, and/or make remarks that some will find offensive or thoughtless or even cruel. I can hardly tip-toe into this discussion without throwing out a few harsh words, but I'll try to say something without being too ugly. Yes, it depends on the church, and I'll offer some examples of what I have observed to define the extremes and boundaries of the topic...

                I know churches (such as the Baptists I grew up with) that definitely require anyone who normally performs a given function in the service each week to be a full-fledged church member. This makes a lot of sense, in that leading worship is seen as a ministry, a personal offering to God, and to lead worship without personal faith is therefore impossible. And a member is by definition submitting to the discipline of the church, therefore expected to be a worthy example to all. So far so good.

                But some of that ilk take it way too far, IMHO. I was in one church where the pastor even controlled who could be in the choir or sing, and he regularly black-balled members he considered to be "living in sin" for some reason, such as taking a job in a liquor store, as well as anyone whose lifestyle was, in his opinion, not in conformity with his interpretation of the Scriptures. Needless to say, I got out of there pretty quickly after this pastor came on the scene. Wreaked of hypocrisy, especially after it was revealed that the guy had a few skeletons in his own closet.

                OTOH, I know churches of the very same denomination that seem not to care at all. Hire rock and roll musicians off the street to staff their "band," or hire orchestra players from the union hall without regard to their faith, or invite any and everybody who comes a few times to take a spot in the praise team or whatever if they feel like it. Almost like the whole issue of faith is irrelevant when it comes to worship leadership. This seems odd to me, given the standard Baptist emphasis on personal salvation and responsibility. But I see a LOT of churches doing this nowadays, big ones and small ones.

                A third category -- a church that truly desires a reverent and spiritual worship service, with musicians who are spiritually sensitive, who may be asked about their faith as part of the hiring process, but actual membership in the congregation is not required. That was how my current church hired me, though I fell in love with the people after just a few weeks and formally became a member, eventually even an elder in the congregation. I see my music as a ministry, though I do not look down on any of my predecessors at this same church who never became members or bonded with the congregation as we have done.

                And perhaps a distinct fourth category -- a church where a highly skilled professional organist or choir director is required, where standards of presentable appearance, dress, and public behavior are at least mentioned, but the specific details of the person's faith are not relevant. I knew a superb professional organist who played for Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and even Jewish congregations at different times without difficulty. He was so good and such a genuinely nice guy too that nobody seemed to question his suitability. I have even known churches like these that hired musicians who truly made no pretense to holding a faith of any kind, and that seemed not to be a problem, as long as normal standards of behavior were observed.

                I'd advise someone wanting to play in church but unwilling to embrace the faith of a given group to be frank with the pastor or whoever does the hiring. See what they say about it. If you're really good enough, your skills are going to be in demand. And who knows, you might just find yourself more drawn to the faith being proclaimed than you ever expected to be!

                For me, my music is my offering and my devotion, and I wouldn't feel right doing it in the service of a religion that I felt was untrue to the spirit of love portrayed in Christ. That is why I fled that church I mentioned above. Even though I grew up in that particular denomination, that congregation and that pastor had, IMHO, twisted the faith into something that I could no longer recognize. So you have to be true to yourself, no matter what you do.
                *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!



                • #9
                  I stand with those who say that Christianity comes in many colors and flavours. You will have to know what kind of Christian makes up the church who is hiring to see if you are compatible with their teachings and if you are someone whom they will accept in a leadership role. Each organist will also have to determine what they are willing to compromise if they choose to work for an employer whose specific beliefs may not match their own entirely. This includes the skill of knowing when to speak (or not) and what subjects are open to discussion (or not.)

                  It is important to note that this can change over time. When my mother was a young woman, if she had worn pants, jewelry or makeup to church, she would have been kicked out - no questions asked. Now, in that same congregation, pants for women are optional and most women wear jewelry and makeup.

                  There is something else that hasn't been mentioned already - times have changed with regard to the general musical skills of the population. In the past, enough people took piano and organ lessons that you could often find someone from within your own congregation, especially in smaller congregations where musicians were not paid. Now that fewer people play instruments well enough to lead worship, some churches have had to turn to paid musicians, and those that already paid in the past may have to look outside their own denomination or faith group to find someone to perform the task to the level desired by the congregation, OR they have simply had to make due with less-skilled musicians.
                  Last edited by regeron; 10-20-2020, 09:11 AM.


                  • jbird604
                    jbird604 commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Not wanting to throw this topic into the grease pit, but your comments bring to mind how sometimes some very conservative Christian friend will say something like -- "If xxx (insert your favorite issue that was once scandalous but is now regarded as acceptable) was a sin for the past 2000 years, why is it now ok?" And that is a fair question, because God surely doesn't change his mind about stuff as human concepts evolve. At least I don't think He does.

                    But the correct answer is: "It was never a sin in the first place. People just made it a sin, or called it a sin, or wanted it to be a sin. But now we know better. We know that it's a facet of human psychology, a trait that is more common that anyone could've guessed, an external or trivial matter, something beyond a person's control... (or whatever appropriately describes the act or state of being under discussion)."

                    For example, as regeron mentions, a generation ago a woman would've been shunned and basically consigned to hell by some churches for wearing pants. (Or for divorcing her husband, even if abusive, or running for office, or any number of other improper actions.) But nowadays, most churches have decided that such things are no longer an issue. In other words, they have re-defined "sin" to exclude some stuff. Why? For fear of looking foolish to the rest of the world? For fear of running off great numbers of their own people? Or have they gotten a fresh word from God on the matter? Or suddenly found that they were interpreting the scripture erroneously? Will there be any public apologies?

                    It takes a lot of courage, but we need brave Christian leaders who will smart up and stand up and tell the truth. And put in their place the demagogues who presume to define "sin" for everybody (except themselves apparently).

                    How is that related to the topic at hand? Well, for me it means that I am no longer willing to attend or use my musical abilities for any church where "sin" is defined to mean that some folks are less than human, that some folks are undeserving of basic human dignity and respect, that they have fewer rights than the "righteous" (as defined in that church). So it has been over 10 years since I darkened the door of a certain type of church on a Sunday. I might go for a funeral or a wedding, or to do a service call for them if they ask nicely. But I'm not giving them any spiritual encouragement nor will I let myself sit through their parody of Christian worship or teaching.

                    Sorry for the rant. Some things just trigger me, I guess!

                  • regeron
                    regeron commented
                    Editing a comment
                    jbird, thanks for your comments. If we discuss things objectively and don't go into judgmental, name-calling rants, there is no reason why this would have to go to the grease pit.

                    I appreciate your words. I chose the example of my mother because it is so clear to see how things have changed, and that particular change would be accepted by most in today's churches. Proof that change is possible and that things formerly considered sinful have lost that label.

                    I, too, dislike it when people are evaluated and their basic humanity is denied. I may not like some things that people do, but I try to separate the person from their actions. That has not always been easy, but I continue to strive toward that.

                    Our responses will hopefully help the OP to understand that not all churches are the same, nor are all Christians, so there is no blanket answer to his question. It will depend so much on the individual denomination, congregation and contact people.

                  • jbird604
                    jbird604 commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Thank you for the comment, regeron. I do tend to get "triggered" now and then, but I trust that airing feelings like this can be helpful to someone. And yes, the OP will benefit from knowing that not all churches are alike. In my own personal case, I did make some judgements, and decided that for me at least, a particular type of church was not my cup of tea. But others may have a different opinion, and that is still allowed in this great free country of ours!

                • #10
                  In my experience as a church organist, I have found the larger the congregation the less important was the personal beliefs of the organist. It was the musical skills/talent that mattered. In one very small church, a sincere young Christian teenager was denied playing for the praise service, because his guitar looked too much like that of a rock star: which was considered a sin.

                  Happily retired organist/pianist from the Church of the Brethren...Allen ADC-4300-DK.
                  Home...Wurlitzer (ES) Orgatron Series 20 Serial #11608 (retrofitted with MIDI and VPO-Hauptwerk) with Leslie 44W (shorty).
                  Hammond BC Serial #5070 with Leslie 31A (tallboy) tone cabinet
                  A.L. Swan antique pump organ (C.1852) Cherry Valley NY
                  Member of the Lutheran Church (LCMS): traditional worship. Cleveland Clinic Spiritual Care volunteer with the chaplain's office.


                  • #11
                    Originally posted by m&m's View Post
                    Depends on whether the church is actually Christian or not. A good many churches are "Christian" in name only, as they do not follow God's word, but yield to the culture, approving homosexuality, abortion, etc.
                    That is my beloved denomination you are denigrating so casually, among many others. I was baptized with water in the name of the Trinity. You do not have any authority to say who is and is not a Christian. Leave it to the Almighty.
                    Home Organ: VPO Home-Brewed from a former Klann pipe organ console


                    • #12
                      I have been a lifelong Lutheran (ALC, LCA, ELCA) but have held positions in other denominations including Roman Catholic, Latter Day Saints, Seventh Day Adventists, Jewish, etc. Each of those churches never questioned my allegiance to whatever spiritual influence guided them along their way ... and I never questioned theirs, even though I didn't agree with some of their doctrines.

                      The important thing here, imho, is the playing level, skill, and education of said musician. Yes, I know several atheists who are organists in Christian churches ... and they all get along just fine. There is one church locally who demands full allegiance to the lead pastor, no matter what, and they must be baptized members of THAT denomination or they are not allowed to even substitute. That full allegiance also means that the church employee has absolutely no say in the planning of worship services ... I would never be part of that kind of institution, but, there are people who would, and that's okay by me.


                      • myorgan
                        myorgan commented
                        Editing a comment
                        Originally posted by Piperdane
                        There is one church locally who demands full allegiance to the lead pastor, no matter what, and they must be baptized members of THAT denomination or they are not allowed to even substitute.
                        That sounds like the church I grew up in. It took me approximately 6 months to get permission from the Worship Committee to play the organ. I ended up playing for the church for the next 2 years!

                        Now, that particular denomination has become much more liberal in their theology, so I don't think they'd be as choosy now–especially after their last music director married a deacon who divorced his wife to marry her. I don't know if the church has recovered or not.


                    • #13
                      I read this thread last night and thought, "No I'm not going to jump in on this one," but it ate at me all day and I felt compelled to chime in. (pun totally intended!) In the only 2 churches I've ever been a member of...yes, good ol Southern Baptist Convention, the musicians have always been church members. Part of church membership is profession of faith in Christ, so that for me has never presented an issue. My biggest feeling on this is...when I play hymns and read, listen to, or sing along at times to the words, I don't know how I could personally play that music if I didn't believe the lyrics. For instance, I don't think I could play for a non-Christian house of worship because I'd feel like I was promoting a message that I myself don't believe in. I don't know how I could sit through a worship service of a different religion and maintain the composure not to stand up and say, "umm, I don't believe that's true." And, if a non-Christian musician is serving week after week, year after year, etc. and actually taking in what he or she is playing, listening to the words of the songs, listening to the Word being preached from the pulpit, playing for the invitation and not be convicted, there could be a problem with the way said church is carrying out its purpose. I personally have had to stop playing when the tears run down my face and clouds my vision on the song book as the spirit has moved me. I have stopped playing during the invitation to hit the alter myself. I've also had the pianist stop playing to do the same at which point I wasn't sure if the building was on fire, she had a heart attack, or what because I couldn't see her from my side. I accepted Christ January 3, 1986, and as one of my favorite hymns says, "I've never been sorry." And as a church musician, we are ministers. How can one be a minister if he or she isn't also a believer? I do understand that some churches want music and praise and worship to be more of a production to fill the house, but if it's all for show, it means nothing spiritually. If I was a nonbeliever that just showed up every Sunday and sat on the organ bench just to collect a few dollars, I would feel like a fraud...just my personal conscience. Oh, and side note: I've never accepted a salary for playing, even when it was budgeted and offered. I feel that doing so would make it like a job. I want it to feel like an act of service. I feel blessed and honored to have been given the talent and the opportunity to share it. Plus, if or WHEN I should say, I make a mistake, I can always lean on, Well, I'm doing this for free! Haha I may have gotten a few bucks here and there through the years for playing at a wedding or funeral. I'll never forget one wedding I worked especially hard preparing for and was told I could "keep the boutonniere" LOL The bride was one of my best friends so I guess the music was my wedding gift to her. By no means is that a jab at those that DO accept a salary for playing. It IS a lot of work, especially in larger churches, big choirs, stringent rehearsal schedules, and those not-so-easy cantatas...and most folks have much more money and time invested in their training than me, and you deserve every penny a church is willing to pay you. Getting back on track...whether a church requires its musicians to be of like faith, whatever that may be, is ultimately up to that church but to me it seems logical that they would or should be. The inscription on the plate on the organ I play at church has the date I presented the organ to the church and at the bottom says "To God Be The Glory" (also one of my favorites) because I don't want one note that comes from that organ to be about ME, every sound should be about praising God and leading others to Him...as should all activities of a church.
                      Church: Allen MADC-2160a

                      Home: Allen ADC-710, Hammond L112 w/ Rhythm II
                      Pianos: Yamaha Grand, Lester/Betsy Ross edition spinet, Cable spinet


                      • jbird604
                        jbird604 commented
                        Editing a comment
                        I grew up in that same environment, and I fully understand every bit of your post. And I played without being paid in most of the SBC churches I served, and had the same feelings, attitudes, and reactions as you (most of the time anyway). I still believe that my music is a ministry, and I too would feel less than genuine if I weren't also worshipping in the service along with those who are benefitting from my music.

                        A major change in my life came, though, when I was thoroughly "burned" in my last SBC church. I had served without pay for 17 years, had obtained nice organs for the church over the years, culminating in an Allen Renaissance, never costing the church a penny, providing much the same ministry to that church as they would've gotten from a paid music minister, worked tirelessly with the choir, did Christmas cantatas, worked with sound system, projection, etc, as if I'd been a paid minister on staff. But at the end, with the coming of a certain type of pastor, I was coldly tossed out because I dared to hold certain opinions that the pastor would not tolerate. (Truth be told, I had been too "liberal" for the SBC for years, but I loved the people there and mostly just held my tongue and went along for the sake of peace until this guy forced the issue.)

                        So we eventually found our way to our present church, a Disciples congregation, where I can be myself, my views are considered perfectly normal and acceptable. Not that my church has no "principles," but one's opinions, political views, and other personal preferences are not a test of fellowship. This is, to be honest, what I have been looking for all my life!

                        I now receive a small salary for my musical services and ministry, which I actually appreciate, as it allows me to work a little less in my secular business. And I now firmly support the idea of churches paying musicians, particularly if they are well-trained and qualified, as "the laborer is worthy of his hire," as we have generally always believed regarding pastors and other ministerial staff. Certainly an organist who spends several hours a week practicing and preparing for Sunday is worthy of some salary if they need and want it.

                        I still agree with you and my old Baptist self that playing or singing in the service ought to be done with sincerity. Thus being in agreement with the church's general teachings, an even being an actual member of the congregation, seems important to me. But I know that some folks have done it differently, and I'm not able to pass judgment on them for that.

                        Thanks for your insights. Keep up the good work!