Ethics of private instruction on church property
  • Curious of some of your thoughts, especially those salaried employees, on private lessons at the church.

    I have been a full time director of music and private teacher (violin, classical guitar, rarely organ) for 25 years and adjunct professor for about 14. The vast majority of my private students are at my home studio, but have had some over these years for scheduling reasons study at my office, perhaps right before or after a rehearsal. Never had an issue or even hint of a problem until this week when I'm told this is forbidden - only official parish needs use. Not even organ lessons. Where would one even learn organ if more churches followed such guidelines? Curious how others experience this.
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  • Historically speaking, until about 3 minutes ago when digital organs finally made it possible to own an instrument at home (and even then, at great cost!), if you didn’t have lessons at church, where on earth did you have them? Apart from university students who have access to university instruments for lessons and practice, every organist has had to learn and practice at church. I find it exceedingly curious when churches try to forbid this; organs aren’t like a trumpet.., students can’t just go out and buy one, and the vast majority of professional organists still don’t have any kind of instrument at home even with the burgeoning digital / hauptwerk market. To wit, I’ve even seen particular job postings that stipulate the right to teach students at the church as a source of potential extra income. (I have similarly seen it forbidden a few times, but I think this is a strange error in thinking.)

    To put it simply: you can’t learn to be an organist without playing an organ, and the organs are, well, in church.

    I cam perhaps understand a parish (particularly if there is perpetual adoration that isn’t in a dedicated chapel) being a difficult venue to try and make this work, and you certainly don’t want your music director giving lessons for 10-15 hours a week to a huge studio… but one or two kids, ESPECIALLY if they are from the parish? It would sure seem STINGY to me to not allow that. I was giving lessons to one of our sons of the parish for a while. Now he is considering becoming a Catholic organist.

    He moved to a different area about 30 mins away and the church there has been making it onerously difficult to practice, so he had been struggling immensely. He even offered to go over to the church at 5am, but they won’t even allow that since there’s a parishioner that likes to pray at that time. It’s utterly ridiculous. “Don’t hide your lamp under a basket…” and all that. Christ was generous with everything he had; I cannot believe he wants us to be stingy with the treasures kept in His name.
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,691
    Have there been any staff changes at the parish recently? Maybe a new business manager who is worried about insurance stuff? New pastor who doesn't like the music? Did you anger the secretary?
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  • Sounds like an insurance issue to me. in other instances when this has happened, the insurance policy was the driver.
  • Thanks for all your comments. Priest doesn't think I should be allowed to make any money on church property even though it doesn't interfere with other duties, and concerned about safety issues with minors. Church property is only to be used for official church purposes. It is what it is I guess. Almost feel like I need to apologize for all the great teaching I may have given over the years, apparently it was for selfish reasons...
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  • Tell him that he probably shouldn’t be receiving any more stipends for weddings, funerals, and baptisms, then. (He wouldn’t want to be making money on church property, after all.)

    “Come work for the church! — we will pay you meager wages and then complain when you try to better your situation on your own so you can remain in servitude service to this august institution!”
  • davido
    Posts: 846
    It's BS. Require the parents to be present at the lessons and the safety issue is gone.
  • Sorry for the snark. This just saddens me. It’s an insidious way to make sure there is no new generation of dedicated and trained musicians. And it’s hardly like teaching a few lessons on the side is a “get rich quick” scheme. I’ll grant the benefit of the doubt that the priest’s heart is in the right place, not wanting to see our Lord offended. But I still believe him misguided.
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  • And Davido is right; that’s a simple solution and common in many piano studios. To say nothing of the fact that you’ll be out in the wide open in a public-access room the whole time.
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  • Snark is very welcome today!
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  • dad29
    Posts: 2,211
    you’ll be out in the wide open in a public-access room the whole time.

    Nope--that won't suffice. The "parent(s) present" is the only workable solution for the potential molestation thing--and it's very important to remember that FALSE accusations are made all the time, so it's just as important for the lesson-giver. Long, long, ago, when in a personnel job and volunteering with the Boy Scouts, those lessons were drilled in.
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  • Carol
    Posts: 836
    This is the best way to protect oneself. My boys took private music lessons and I always stayed within earshot during the lessons. I would often correct school papers while I sat there.
  • vogelkwvogelkw
    Posts: 55

    Thank you for your years of directing and teaching music for the sacred liturgy for the glory of God and sanctification of souls. As a priest I am always glad to let the organs in my churches be used for practice by those learning sacred music for the service of prayer. Yes, we have to share the sacred space with one another and make sure what we do there is in the service of public worship and private prayer. There are times when I may be working on a teaching project or practicing singing in the church, and I will gladly postpone if someone shows up to pray.

    I haven't had anyone ask about doing paid lessons in the church, so I haven't really thought through potential issues due to civil laws. Of course the safe environment policies of one's diocese must be followed, but that is the case now for everything we do.

    This site gives some things to consider:
    I just found the page, so I can't vouch for its accuracy. But it brings up issues related to a church's tax status and proposes an "on-site music program" as another option. I'm no expert, so as pastor I would likely get advice from the diocese to make sure things are ok.

    Sometimes it does feel like some laws get in the way of doing good, and I think to myself, did the apostles have to deal with all this? I just want to share Jesus.

    Fr. Vogel
  • Chaswjd
    Posts: 244
    My parish has a program to train young organists. The music director, however, does not personally charge for lessons. Rather, the parish conditions the lessons on playing at mass when the organist is sufficiently far along. Indirectly the director benefits. She gets free subs when she needs them.
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  • Sometimes it does feel like some laws get in the way of doing good, and I think to myself, did the apostles have to deal with all this? I just want to share Jesus.

    Fr. Vogel, I think this all the time!
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  • I can see how this can be a fuzzy area if looked at through a legal or tax perspective. Although the possibility of me having a violin student come to my office before a choir rehearsal causing any legal or tax problems seems impossibly remote. I am an adjunct professor at a local university as well and my pastor thought I'd be in trouble if I used the university for private lessons. Most every college professor I know take a couple students outside of the university. My 11 and 12 year old take piano lessons at a local university after hours.

    My experience has shown that most pastors could care less as long as it didn't interfere with my job performance or any church activity. Others are much more concerned with crossing all their eyes and dotting their t's.
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  • Carol
    Posts: 836
    Sorry, but I cannot help myself, "crossing their eyes" made me laugh! Very hard to read music if one is crossing one's eyes.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,927
    Many organists in my area have contracts that allow the organist to teach using the church organ. The only one I know of that doesn't assumes the practice and teaching usage would increase maintenance costs on the instrument.
  • How is an organist giving a lesson for a stipend in any way a tax problem? This has nothing to do with the church’s tax-exempt status.
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  • francis
    Posts: 10,635
    True Honest To God Story...

    I was the DoM for a large church in VA. The entire congregation sang four complete Masses from the Kyriale at full voice... I kid you not. I was dumbfounded when I discerned the Bishop was trying to squash the effort. After a year as a temp (they wanted me full time), I left.

    However, during that time, there was a savant, a teen of maybe 18 or so (and his parents), who attended the parish, (most likely members), and God forgive me for not remembering his name, he was the epitome of JOY for me. He was the apex of why I existed in this temporary position. He WANTED to play the organ! ...and right so he should, because it was a beautiful pipe organ built in the Austrian tradition and perfectly set in the choir gallery (and the rest of the block long church) to the extent that when you listened to the organ in the gallery it matched the tone and volume at the altar. [I was amazed when I had someone play the organ and went down to the altar to hear it for myself. I have never heard such a perfect acoustic.]

    This charming soul (I wish I could remember his name) would come up after every Mass and be staring at me while I played the postlude, and everytime I finished, he asked to play the organ. I always accommodated his requests as best I could.

    Eventually, I gave him the NOH of Mass VIII and within a couple of weeks he was playing it (post postlude) with my exact registration as used at Mass. I will never ever forget the gift of this simple and beautiful soul. (I believe he was entirely self taught).

    The church should never deny the wondrous and beautiful pipe organ to anyone. Ever.
  • tandrews
    Posts: 156
    Organ lessons at the church fall under my job description of training future Sunday organists and/or duties as music teacher at the school, and no one has an issue with me making money from those lessons.

    However, when parents wanted me to teach piano lessons, which was outside of the scope of the job description and that I had no piano at home, and that the church had the best piano I had access to, I was told to get additional insurance (some kind of $1 million rider that cost a couple extra bucks a month), and it was no longer a problem. Maybe that's all you need?

    Then again, this is the same church that insists on being an intermediary for my funeral checks (only me, no other musicians that play at the church), believing me not trustworthy enough to claim those stipends on my taxes, and takes taxes out of my funeral checks.
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  • davido
    Posts: 846
    Andrews, you need a new parish business manager
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  • If you are a full-time salaried employee, it's difficult to see you having much time to dedicate to a side-gig, without neglecting the duties of your main job - no matter what location you are using.

    If you are less than full-time, there are still very, very few employers who would be happy with you using their premises, equipment, heat, light, water, for a side-gig. Let alone one that exposes them to considerably more risks of abuse claims. Most employment contracts have clauses explicitly forbidding it.

    IMHO it would be totally in order for a church that employs a qualified organist full-time to expect some number of teaching hours to be included in their weekly duties. In which case, fees for the lessons would go to the employer, and they would be carried out following the employer's standard safety protocols. And this is how the church grows future generations of organists.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,635
    And this is how the church conforms itself to a worldly corporate structure that treats people first as liabilities.
  • davido
    Posts: 846
    Melodious, that’s just not how music works. It’s unreasonable to expect there to be a regular crop of organ students at a parish.
    Also, the use of parish facilities for teaching lessons is a side benefit that can help to make up for the poor salaries that dioceses instruct pastors to pay.
    Lastly, full time positions are usually salaried. Salaried positions are about getting X amount of work done, not about being at a job for X number of hours. Reasonable pastors allow salaried musicians a fair amount of flexibility in when their administrative duties are accomplished. Another perk that helps to make up for the low salary, and keeps musicians from leaving music for a “regular” job with a professional level wage.
  • Imagine a full time choirmaster position which required the employee to clock in, to clock out, and to be paid 40 hrs only when 40 hours are worked.
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  • TCJ
    Posts: 964
    I have taught piano lessons on the side. I don't search out students, but sometimes they come to me and ask. Pastor is perfectly okay with it. He has a lot of common sense.
  • JonLaird
    Posts: 242
    A somewhat related point: There are liability issues involved, and for this reason many (all?) dioceses may, officially, require instructors regularly using church property and resources to have a certain amount of liability insurance coverage, and to name the bishop as having no liability for anything that happens during/as a result of that activity. This would apply to outside groups that rent/use church property for their business purposes, and technically that would include regular private instruction.

    It's to prevent someone from suing the diocese for something you do wrong while you are using church property for something other than what the diocese is paying you to do. If a summer camp is renting the space, and a camp counselor is negligent and causes a camper to get injured or killed, the parish shouldn't be legally responsible for that.

    In practice, I suspect this is lightly enforced as regards private music instructors.

    But then, a parish might just say, no outside groups at all may use the property for business purposes. It's a pastor's prerogative, for better or for worse.

    EDIT: I think I'm conflating the contract with the parish/diocese and the liability coverage, which names the bishop as being the one covered in the event of a lawsuit (but the basic point stands). I had to do this years ago for something and I'm a little fuzzy on the details.
  • GambaGamba
    Posts: 538
    Practice in dioceses I’ve worked in is for all outside vendors to sign a Hold Harmless form and provide a Certificate of Insurance. The HH is for releasing St. N. Parish, the Diocese of X., and Bishop Y. from all legal claims they may bring, or which may be brought because of their activity in the church, accepting responsibility for any damages they cause, and attesting that they have liability insurance that meets the diocesan minimums in case someone sues. The CoI is proof issued by their insurance agency of their active policy, and its coverage limits really being $1 million or whatever the diocese wants.

    Overall, it seems to me that this is a very smart thing to do, that makes sure we stay out of the news for the wrong reasons, and protects the often-precarious finances of the parish and diocese. Otherwise, one roofer taking a tumble, or someone who got burned by the coffee at an AA meeting, could wipe out the parish’s budget for a year, and then what….

    Where it has been problematic is in getting minor repairs done by small vendors. In one place there was a great piano tech I wanted to use for the choir room piano, but he didn’t have $1m in liability insurance, because, um, it’s nearly impossible to cause $1m of damage to even the most precious of pianos. So I had to use a less-great guy who did carry that much insurance, because he had a bunch of institutional contracts.
  • Where it has been problematic is in getting minor repairs done by small vendors. In one place there was a great piano tech I wanted to use for the choir room piano, but he didn’t have $1m in liability insurance, because, um, it’s nearly impossible to cause $1m of damage to even the most precious of pianos. So I had to use a less-great guy who did carry that much insurance, because he had a bunch of institutional contracts.
    BureaucraZy at its absolute finest.

    As an aside, I find myself honestly shocked that there are organists on this thread espousing not using church for lessons (if not there, then where?) regardless—this leads me to the next logical question: how do you feel about people practicing in church? I owe my career to a number of churches that were kind enough to let me come and practice there regularly. Without that access as a young man, there would be no me, here today. It's that simple.
  • Bri
    Posts: 99
    In our diocese, there are two recommended ways for employees to provide private lessons:

    1. The church/school collects fees and then pays the instructor through payroll. (They sometimes keep a portion of the fees to cover "administrative fees" and the employer portion of the taxes.)
    2. The instructor works as an independent contractor and shows evidence of a liability policy of $1 million. (I've heard that this coverage can be fairly reasonable in cost.)

    As noted above, it is important that the instructor not be alone with an individual student. This protects both the student and the instructor.
  • GambaGamba
    Posts: 538
    One solution to lessons in this tortious world might be for Joe Organist’s student to pay the church for the lessons, and the church to then pay Joe Organist this amount via payroll. The church typically already has the ability to do this easily for weddings/funerals/other one-off music payments.

    That way, there is no apparent conflict of interest (Joe’s Awesome Music Studio making money at the church where Joe works), and organ lessons can be one more non-sacramental spiritually-edifying service the parish provides and promotes to the faithful, just like spiritual direction, or a Bible study, or a youth programme, or….. And it’s quite a statement, too, for Fr. Pastor to say “the organ is so important to the Catholic liturgy; we are going to be a place where people can learn to play.”

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  • There is no ethical dilemma as long as you're not double dipping by earning money from students during normal work hours. I either offer lessons for free (to my assistants or potential students) or meet outside office hours with them. The free lessons are legitimate, since you're essentially training your assistants. However, I would never want some arbitrary quota of lessons regularized or written into a contract. I would never want an employer or manager involved in my decision about whether to accept a student for private instruction, or whether to continue (just as one example, I wouldn't want my employer requiring me to waste time working with a student who does not practice).

    It's understandable why some pastors may have concern about private lessons, given that you're using the church's facilities for your own side gig. For me, in the cases where it has come up at all, it has been sufficient to point out that organs only exist in churches, and without lessons there won't be assistants, subs, or future organists. Not only should private lessons be allowed, but parishes and dioceses should give serious thought to providing the stipends for those lessons, if they want to have any musicians in the future. Programs like this exist in many places.

    Sidebar - FWIW I DO prefer to have the parish handle all wedding and funeral stipends in my payroll. The double benefit is that I do not have to track down payment; and I do not have to keep track of taxes on those stipends.
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  • What part of "professional development" do the bean counters/insurance worrywarts not understand? The organ is being used both to accompany Mass and train the next generation of those who will accompany the Mass. The teacher is engaging in a kind of Catholic outreach, too, since not all the students will always be Catholic.

  • Imagine a full time choirmaster position which required the employee to clock in, to clock out, and to be paid 40 hrs only when 40 hours are worked.

    That is the very opposite of what I would expect - at least in an American situation: in every company where I've worked with American managers, their attitude is that the contracted 40 hours would be the bare minimum which anyone serious about their career would do in a week. Far more would typically be expected.

    Even without that cultural layer, a full-time employee is expected to be just that: someone whose income is their paid job. Trying to combine a full time paid job with a side-gig is a nonsense, unless that side gig is trivial and totally unrelated to the main job.
  • Trying to combine a full time paid job with a side-gig is a nonsense, unless that side gig is trivial and totally unrelated to the main job.
    ...Or unless the primary gig doesn't pay enough, and/or you find fulfillment in the side gig, which cannot be met by the primary job.

    [To be clear, I'm not complaining about my current post. Just stating an obvious flaw to the argument above.]
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  • Pax,

    If you're correct, then why do so many parishes set their salary for musicians so relatively low and then write something like "weddings and funerals are potential sources of supplemental income."
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  • Pax - You seem to have an axe to grind here; I'm not sure about what, precisely. It's commonplace in our society for people to work extra, side gigs on top of a full time job - whether for extra money, for fulfillment, to start their own business, etc. The entrepreneurial spirit in fact is best grounded in the classic advice "don't give up your day job!" Every serious musician in history (church or otherwise) has had a busy life, made up of multiple jobs and income streams (publishing royalties, conducting, a church job, private lessons, teaching in a school or university, etc., etc.). The idea of rigidly squeezing hours out of a church musician or trying to crack down on side pursuits is an odd, bizarrely modern American mentality (which, fortunately does not even seem to be that widespread here - I do hear about it sometimes from colleagues, but usually in the context of describing a toxic situation that they left). I suppose some corporations and even churches do believe that "full-time" means they own their employee's entire life and are owed every bit of possible energy that could be given to any pursuit, regardless of work hours. But hopefully every well-formed human being would be horrified by that disgusting mentality, and flee it. Regardless, it's nothing to be proud of, or hold up as a standard or model.

    Meanwhile in very many European posts, the church job is more honorary than lucrative, the organist has many outside jobs, and the quality is very often much higher than our American standard. Granted, this is in large part because the general level of musical training is higher - particularly with young choristers, school music, and improvisation, but it seems that that is a better thing to look at than whether more office hours could be squeezed out of church musicians.
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,927
    I never charged for lessons. I didn't need the money - thanks be to God - and some students were from families that couldn't afford to pay for lessons. Encouraging their talents was worth any effort I put into it. But given today's climate, I would encourage any teacher to have a personal liability policy. I saw something a while back from AGO that offered such policies. You can be accused of anything so be wise. Don't think "it will never happen to me." It could.
  • If you have a full time job, and start using your employer's resources (time, electricity, whatever) to support your side gig, that is stealing. It is really very simple.

    If you want to be a gigging musician or a private music teacher, then by definition you cannot also do a full-time job too (unless your full-time job description includes playing gigs or teaching.
  • Traditionally, organ lessons were taught at church by the organist.

    You may be able to discuss the practicalities of needing a pipe organ to learn how to play the pipe organ, and discuss a contract arrangement with the parish addressing the insurance issues, etc.
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  • TCJ
    Posts: 964
    Using the organ (with permission) to give private lessons is not stealing. Where did that ridiculous idea come from?
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  • davido
    Posts: 846
    Not sure where the negative arguments are still coming from on this thread.
    We’ve heard from college professors and church musicians that using employer facilities for teaching private lessons is an allowed, accepted, and customary perk that is part of their position.
    We’ve also heard arguments on philosophy of employment about people working both full and part time jobs at the same time. I personally have worked concurrent full/part time jobs both in and out of the music industry.

    Music is a tough and often disappointing industry. However in the patronage system of pastor/organist, there is no reason why the pastor/patron can’t offer some perks to their organist/client such as facility use for professional activities.
  • Pax,

    If the employee is using resources consistent with company policy, such as the organ at a time it is available, with the prior knowledge and approval of the pastor, what's going on isn't theft.

    I will come a small portion of the way to your position, though, if the organist is sneaking behind the back of his employer, using Catholic parish copiers to print screeds against the Catholic Church or, say a Macdonald's worker is printing "Buy Hardee's burgers" at work, on company time, and using company ink and paper, and asking for reimbursement though the action undertaken is expressly prohibited by company policy.... then, clearly, theft is taking place.