Employment Agreements
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,288
    It would be of interest to draw up a simple employment agreement for Catholic church musicians.

    Agreed that there will be an evaluation and discussion every 3 months with the pastor.

    If, at any time, an issue arises, the pastor gives notice to the musician and they meet every 30 days to work this out.

    If it becomes impossible to rectify the situation after three months of discussion, then the pastor may terminate the employment, preferably with some sort of termination payment, since the employee has spent money and possibly relocated to take the position and is in that position again.

    If, however, the pastor decides to terminate the employment without notice at any time, the pastor will pay six months salary as part of the termination. Essentially, if a pastor is forced by parishioners to fire you, the person that he chose to hire, then he has to pay.

    While there are certain issues that would require the pastor to terminate the agreement that would not justify termination pay, the details in this situation would have to be revealed to the diocesan HR office and reviewed with the employee, who, if they then wish, may ask for Recourse from the Bishop.


    This is not forcing the hand of the pastor, requiring such an agreement, but rather demonstrates to the pastor the desire of the employee to be to up front in all ways, keeping communication going and - when it is necessary that am employee be let go, giving them three months to work through this gives them time to accept the situation as it is and be able to plan to move on.


    The sudden firing of Catholic church musician is a common practice and in no way is a Christian act. We can insist on a fair employment agreement and, if the pastor refuses - he's not someone you want to work for in the first place.

    Along with other plans of Bishops to improve music in parishes, this would be a step forward if they themselves would get behind this. I wonder how many Bishops read these posts as subscribers or through forwarded messages?
    Thanked by 1Casavant Organist
  • As someone on the hunt for my first music director job (I got laid off from my non-music day job a month and a half ago, so I determined, why not take a shot at it?), let me say thanks, Noel. This is something I'll keep in mind while I'm on the hunt.
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,836
    This would, of course, be best if the bishop was in agreement with it, or priests will just do what they want. Such an agreement would be a boon for church musicians, however there is a potential downside: instead of employing a musician for pay, they will just take volunteers, whom they can treat as they wish instead of being bound by a legal agreement.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,288
    instead of employing a musician for pay, they will just take volunteers,


    I think that volunteers are always preferred by many parish employers. However, when a priest wants an adequate or better program - and also CONTROL over the musician, pay is worth it to them.

    Without a written agreement and pay, the volunteer is free to do as they like and go out of control - causing havoc in a parish. Happens all the time, since they are not paid and have no reason to be reliable, qualified or hirable as a normal employee - this permeates some parishes with volunteers and hardly-qualified and poorly paid employees running the parish and maintaining it.

    It is ALWAYS better to pay someone to do anything.
    Thanked by 1Ryan Murphy
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,836
    The raw numbers usually win out though. Most priests I know will gladly take the volunteer of poorer quality in exchange for keeping enough money in the budget to recarpet the nave.
    Thanked by 3CCooze Ryan Murphy Liam
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,288
    You just need to get to know a better class of priests. They are out there!

    Man of them have never had the opportunity to experience working with a church musician. Developing that relationship is essential. If you are not comfortable with the pastor in hiring interviews, you may want to look further.

    If they have been to a seminary or been assigned to a parish with a good music program, that's a good sign.

    These guys often inherit a carpeted church with arm-waving cantors, everything amplified and poor choices of music - music people wanted instead of music chosen for them. If they have had a better experience they may have the guts to reform.

    If, however, the pastor is involved in a building program, avoid this situation. He'll be transferred before or when it's done and the congregation will be unsettled.
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,288
    When people are fired at a Catholic church, it's never about the money. It's always about others that want you fired and the priest caves.
    Thanked by 1francis
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,417


    If, however, the pastor is involved in a building program, avoid this situation. He'll be transferred before or when it's done and the congregation will be unsettled.


    I'm sure this is true in some dioceses. Not all.
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,836
    It's always about others that want you fired and the priest caves.


    My feeling is that the priest caves because those "others" have money he doesn't want to lose.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 7,485
    ClergetKubisz... If I could double thank you, I would.
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • It would be of interest to draw up a simple employment agreement for Catholic church musicians.


    I agree with that and disagree with nearly everything else in the first post. Do your job and do it well. Know what committee meetings require your presence and when (if none, be thankful). Learn if the pastor is the kind who will leave you alone or is hand-on. You'll drive the first one nuts if you try to clear everything and the second guy equally so if you don't consult about every week.

    I have held a number of posts over the last 45 years. Contract or no, it's At Will in the Catholic Church. Someone always has the final say and it is never, ever the music director. When there are "disagreements to be worked out", the Pastor is right and even if he would be dead wrong in a Protestant church (where a committee has the final say—still not the music director), he's still right.

    Many priests do not quite comprehend that, though they took vows of obedience, you didn't. Still, it doesn't matter. If the situation is intolerable, sometimes one must resign.

    I had such a situation many years ago. A new pastor laid down the law, as it were, as to how the music department and choir were to be run. The three of us running the program knew that our singers and musicians would desert the program so, when he said, "You have to do this", we told him that we had the choice to resign—and we did. No spite, no threat to resign—we just did. He was going to have his way but without us (and without any musicians as it turned out)

    To be clear, we never questioned his authority to impose those conditions on our volunteers (if any were going to be left). We did try to explain that choir members only put in the time when they want to. We tried. A year later, when he was gone, we directors were asked back but we'd moved on. So it goes.

    When people are fired at a Catholic church, it's never about the money. It's always about others that want you fired and the priest caves.


    Normally, someone got his/her feelings hurt and put the blame on you (right or wrong). Sometimes that person has to wait till the right pastor comes along and then you are toast.

    Without a written agreement and pay, the volunteer is free to do as they like and go out of control - causing havoc in a parish. Happens all the time, since they are not paid and have no reason to be reliable, qualified or hirable as a normal employee ...


    Short form: The stipend compels accountability. Key music positions should be paid.
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,187
    I've got an even better solution: don't seek employment in the Catholic Church.

    I slammed that door, nailed up a cross-bar, dug a moat and filled it with crocodiles.

    Since then, my weight has dropped 10 pounds, my blood pressure is lower and my spiritual life is healing.

    These constant, clever, endless debates about how to practically and safely navigate and survive employment in the Church are pointless.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • David,

    I don't know how you managed this
    slammed that door, nailed up a cross-bar, dug a moat and filled it with crocodiles
    but how do you reconcile this with the fact that Christ founded one Church, and Protestants aren't it.
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,187
    I said nothing about abandoning my Faith. Since I quit my last Latin rite organist position, I've been attending a Ruthenian (Byzantine Catholic) church.

    And, so far as I understand I'm not bound by canon law or conscience to seek employment as a musician exclusively in Roman Catholic Churches. If this is not the case, someone kindly correct me. Besides, my current full-time job is in the secular world and nothing to do with the Church. As an employer, the Catholic Church is full of abusive, officious, dysfunctional misfits with little sense of the true meaning of social justice or the dignity of work. The hypocrisy that I and many of my colleagues have not only witnessed but also directly experienced is disgusting. Unfortunately some, out of a misplaced sense of loyalty (not unlike the relationship between an abused spouse and their abuser) stay in these unhealthy employment relationships believing that either their employer will change with time, or it's really their own fault in the first place and they deserve the abusive treatment and that the Church can do no wrong, or they convince themselves if they can just tweak the situation things will get better. It's a pathology that is professionally, financially, personally and spiritually crippling.

    I've slammed the door on employment in the Church, not my Faith.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,836
    I, too, have sworn off consideration of employment as a Novus Ordo DM. I've done that before, got burned, and won't be doing it again. One exception is if I am specifically asked to do so, with the full understanding and approval of what I stand for and what I will bring to the table. Most likely, this will mean that I will not be a Novus Ordo DM ever again, and I am perfectly fine with that. I would consider the TLM, but probably only at FSSP parishes, or other parishes where the NO is not offered at all. There aren't any of those nearby. My primary job is that of music teacher, and I will do that job for Catholic schools, even in those parishes which only offer the Novus Ordo. If that means that I am also the DM, I make sure that they understand completely what they are getting.
    Thanked by 1StimsonInRehab
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,417
    Though I'm of course sympathetic to my colleagues who have posted here and the difficulties they have experienced (which are real and many have seen this)... I feel the need to weigh in - in case some youngster is reading this and is thinking "oh man.. I need to not do this for a career."

    I've been doing this for 17 years - 7 as a student and 10 years full time. I've never been fired or forced out of anywhere. When I changed jobs it was moving on to either a better paying job, a parish in a more attractive place, or being 'promoted' within a Diocese. If I could go back to the beginning and start again, I would take the exact same path without hesitation.

    Also come to my breakout session at the Colloquium in Minnesota about how to make a career in church music and be happy.
    Thanked by 1Casavant Organist
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,288
    It would appear to me that priests being forced out of parishes are being treated exactly as many Catholic musicians have been for years - we've attempted to follow the GIRM and traditions of the liturgy and its music and, as a result, have been dismissed.

    Now priests are doing the same thing with the same result.

    This is a bad thing that is a good thing for the future of the church.

  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 5,109
    It's good to hear testimonies such as Matthew's, just above. Perhaps there are more. I, for one, have been a professional church musician for better than fifty-five years. There have been a few 'bumps' and unpleasantries, people I 'couldn't stand', trying incidents, etc., but there is nothing else that I would wish to have done. I have served Catholic parishes, one historic Lutheran one, a number of Episcopal ones, was the founding choirmaster of Walsingham and am still a staff organist there. Each has had its own rewards, for which I consider myself very rich and very blessed. I would never want to dwell on the matters that gave me great angst and fretment whilst 'in the fray'. It is the beauty that I was able to share, to inculcate, and the Christian culture from which I drew countless blessings that I prefer to remember.

    We hear so many horror stories on our forum that one could be forgiven for viewing church music as a career, or hearing it as the Lord's calling, as a thing to be shunned. The truth probably lies in the simple human condition whereby there is going to be joy and sadness in every human endeavour, in every career and vocation, and in every life. Perhaps it seems exaggerated in the Church for the very reason that we expect the Church to be relatively free from it. The Devil and Screwtape have their greatest challenges in the very Church of God, and it is there that one can expect their finest performances.

    I myself have railed in outrage here at some of the things reported of on our forum. And, there is much at which outrage is deserved. At heart, though, I, all of us, know that there are many, very many, spiritually mature, intelligently endowed, culturally conscientious priests who are a true blessing to all, who are gifts from God. And yes, there are those who aren't. The same may be said of our colleagues. Too, there are many congregations who are appreciative of the God-given beauty with which we have been gifted for to share with them.

    Perhaps the wise person will keep in mind that, whilst to be here or there, or to be doing this or that, may seem or appear to be a bed of roses, it is well to remember that those roses have thorns. Indeed, are there any here who have failed, after hopping over a fence, to have discovered that the grass really is no greener there? This is, after all, a fallen world. St Paul reminds us that 'all creation (that means all space, inner and outer, and all time) groans for redemption'. No place is immune.

    One of many lessons which I have learnt is not to be running from something you hate, but to find something that you love and run to it.

    If you are blessed with musical gifts appropriate to the Church's worship and genuinely feel called to that service, by all means prepare for it and follow your genie, knowing full well that there will be 'ups and downs', delights and frustrations. This life is a test - and you will be tested for your mettle and integrity wherever you go.
    Thanked by 1bhcordova
  • David,

    I am pleased that you have not abandoned your faith. I am sorry that I misunderstood.

    For 5 years I worked at a wonderful parish (OBPVI) whose pastor and I agreed without needing to meet. I have also worked in execrable conditions (which I won't detail here). I am currently the organist of record at an Institute apostolate (so, TLM). If I hang up my shoes here at some point, I won't go play at a Protestant outfit. It's not the Church Christ founded, and (despite what some friends have tried mightily to explain to me) I can't see how being there is either actively participating in their "worship" or being deliberately disrespectful.



  • FidemInFidebusFidemInFidebus
    Posts: 497
    "If, however, the pastor is involved in a building program, avoid this situation. He'll be transferred before or when it's done and the congregation will be unsettled."

    This right here. This is why I don't want to take a job recently offered to me. The pastor already warned that he could be transferred at any time, and his plans to return to more traditional worship are not being well received. The pay is good, damn good for where I live. But every alarm and warning bell is going off in my head, and just thinking about the mess I'd walk into makes me want to run far away. And this is a Protestant church!

    Every job has the good, bad, and the ugly. Like some others here, I've never been fired from a job-church music or otherwise. (Of course if there was an issue, and this only happened in non-music jobs, I quit before they had the chance to sack me.) A good friend and colleague recently took on a DM position at a huge and extremely wealthy mega church. THEY DIDNT PAY HIM. He believed, naively, that it would lead to a permanent position with some kind, ANY kind, of compensation. A year went by and nothing changed. He brought in professional musicians, and an entire orchestra, for their holiday programs. The church had a huge public worship service at a local arena and my friend had to coordinate everything. No money. Zero. Had any of us known what was happening, we never would have participated. They paid the musicians but not their director. I felt sick when I heard that, and relieved when my friend finally resigned from that place. Sadly, this was his first and probably last experience as a music director. Which is a shame because he is a great musician and composer, a hard worker, someone who literally gives the shirt off his back if you needed it-sometimes to his own detriment though.

    As much as I would like to work in a Catholic music position, these discussions certainly make me think twice. I already know what happens when they decide for whatever reason that they don't want you and throw you out like trash. We pulled our children from Catholic school for similar issues.




  • TCJ
    Posts: 554
    I have had both good and bad experiences working at Catholic churches in the past 11 years. I have had a large sampling of being under different leadership for this relatively brief time because I seem to be a stroke of bad luck for any pastor for whom I work. To date, I have worked with nine (count 'em!) different pastors or administrators in those eleven years because every time I arrive (or they do) they are either immediately transferred or have health issues. Three of them have been enthusiastic about true sacred music, three of the them didn't care what I did, one tried to revive pop music, and the other was for the betterment of sacred music as long as there wasn't any backlash (there was). What I have learned is that sometimes the laity has more control than the pastor (not always) and that working at a Catholic church is a precarious position due to the constant change in priests.

    Is it stressful? At times, yes. Some churches were awful in that regard, some are not. Did I ever wonder if I should stop what I am doing and find another type of job? Yes. I came to the conclusion that other jobs are just as stressful, but that the job working for the church sometimes seems more so precisely because I have a higher (and perhaps unrealistic) expectation of the behavior of Catholics.

    What about doing music at a protestant church? No. Catholics are not supposed to assist in false worship. In my own conscience, providing music for false worship constitutes assisting in false worship. I cannot, therefore, in good conscience do it, even if it means a larger income and an "easier" life for my family. Instead, I will stick to working for the Catholic church even if it involves moving jobs (and even states) more often because it is what I am supposed to do. Nobody ever said there wouldn't be suffering in this world or that I should run away from it. If I do, I will just encounter more.

    Note: I currently am very happy with my current employment. The above is not a complaint about my present situation!