I was witness yesterday to an argument. Not an in-person argument, the kind that leads to blows, but an online argument, the kind in which two people carry on an exchange over multiple posts, finally ending when one person simply gives up and stops posting. Sometimes it's because they despair of convincing the other, and sometimes it's because one person realizes that the other is not going to ever understand what it is he's trying to say.
This particular argument had elements of both. Without naming names, let me lay out the particulars for you. The first person, whom I shall call Mr. A, is a choir director at a church in the Midwest. The second person, Mr. B, is someone I know personally. Mr. A had posted a link to an article written by a priest that essentially invalidated whatever reasons a person might have for missing church. Mr. B replied, saying that circumstances are complicated and the article posted was really just so much self-righteous crap. And with that, the argument was off and running.
As it progressed, it became evident that Mr. A was simply not understanding what it is that Mr. B was trying to say. It seemed fairly obvious to me that Mr. A was simply too entrenched in his own world view to be able to make the leap to where Mr. B was coming from. Both people had very good reasons for what they were saying, and it was possible for me to see the validity of both arguments, but in the end I have to side with Mr. B. Let me attempt to explain.
Mr. A's argument was basically that as a choir director, he needs to be able to count on people to be there, not only for church but for choir practice and so forth. The point being, of course, that if you make a commitment you should honor it, and that your failure to do so can impact others adversely--in this case, Mr. A himself, because if choir members don't show up then he has to sing the service all by himself, and that's not fair, and he frankly doesn't know if he could keep on keepin' on were that to be the case.
Mr. B's point, boiled down, was that sometimes it's easy to miss the forest for the trees. Yes, Mr. C might say he'll be in church to sing in the choir and not show up, but we don't know the particulars of his situation. Maybe he has a sick wife and a screaming child at home, and he's really needed there. Maybe it's one of a million other reasons, but it's not for us to judge, and we need to all calm down a bit and focus on what's truly important. It makes no sense to rush off to church if by doing so you're leaving someone else in the lurch. Hardly Christ-like, that.
From my own perspective, Mr. B is closer to the mark. As an example, I've been tasked by my own priest to coordinate the altar servers on Sundays, to make sure that there are people lined up to serve when we need them, and to try to rotate people so that everyone participates. It's tricky, because not everyone wants to serve, everybody has their own scheduling issues, and I don't want to lean too heavily on any one person, because then the load is unfairly borne. My own solution is to simply let people sign up for when they want to be there. Occasionally, I do have to simply put a sign-up sheet in front of someone and give them a pen and tell them to pick a date, but at the same time I tell them that if for any reason they can't be there, to just tell me and I'll take care of it. No stress, no worries. For the most part, it works. In fact, it worked like a charm just a couple of weeks ago when that exact situation happened.
Yes, there are times when people don't show up. There is at least one person in the parish who will simply not come behind the iconostasis if he thinks there are enough people back there, regardless of whether or not he's signed up to serve. At the same time, he's an absolute rock upon which the parish has been built, is extremely faithful, and he's always prepared to serve if asked to do so on an emergency basis, so how can I complain? I can't.
The fact is that I took on the job voluntarily. Nobody forced me into it. I've also voluntarily taken on the job of being a sort of reader-in-training to handle the Epistle reading on Sunday morning. This means that I almost always do double duty as both server and reader. So be it. The world's not going to end if I have to hand the incense to the priest, walk out and do the epistle reading, then come back in and pick up a taper to act as a server for the gospel reading. It's a small parish, everybody plays a part, and that's mine.