Robin L. D. Rees
Weary And Ill At Ease

The Case Studies

In each of the true case studies [only one of which is on-line], the principal participants were all well-meaning Christian people. However, their failure to communicate satisfactorily with each other gave rise to great distress both to themselves and to many who looked to them for leadership. The names of the characters and the churches have of course been changed.

The Sitting Tenant

The Choir Dinner was always such a happy occasion. Each year the PCC voted that St Luke’s should show its appreciation of the choir by inviting each adult member and his/her guest to dinner in a local restaurant. The vicar, the churchwardens and their wives always came along too. In his speech, Peter the vicar momentarily forgot exactly how many years Stanley had been organist at the church, and stopped to ask him. On being reminded that it was nineteen, he remarked that Stanley’s twentieth anniversary would have to be specially commemorated at next year’s dinner. Granted, during the rest of the year, Stanley and a few other choir members were known not to get on well with Peter but, at least on this one evening of the year, any differences were forgotten.

Within a month of the dinner, Stanley had been given three months’ notice of dismissal and, within a further week, the entire congregation had been split into two warring factions, siding either with Peter or with Stanley. What had brought about this sorry state of affairs, and how did matters subsequently develop?

Stanley had been organist at the church for a long time. A respected head of music at a local school, he felt at ease with upper-middle-of-the-road worship, which is what St Luke’s had always offered until this young vicar appeared just six years ago. As soon as he arrived, Peter began to make little changes in the worship and, over the years, the church became gradually more evangelical. Stanley, various members of the choir, and even, it must be said, some members of the congregation were not happy. They felt keenly about this and, although they tried hard, they were unable to get their point of view across to Peter. Oh, how they hated singing choruses! Their only hope was that perhaps they could in time influence the rest of the congregation, who might in turn influence Peter to take things a bit more gently. Perhaps before too long he would be moving on to another church.

But now this terrible news. Stanley had only just got home after taking his wife to hospital, when there was a knock at the door. It was Peter. After passing the time of day, Peter asked him how much longer he intended to stay on as organist at St Luke’s, and seemed surprised to learn that Stanley was not intending to leave next year after completing 20 years’ service. No, God willing, he intended to stay on for another 20. Then Peter said the fateful words: ‘Stanley, I am sorry, but we do not seem to be able to work well together. I must give you three months’ notice.’ Peter accepted afterwards that he had chosen a very unsuitable occasion on which to discuss the matter with Stanley, and that his off-the-cuff remark at the choir dinner had been most unfortunate. Moreover, he should have consulted the churchwardens before embarking on his present course of action. On the other hand, he knew that Stanley had for years been criticising his ministry, mainly behind his back and, in his shock at realising that Stanley would probably otherwise outlast him, he took the step that he had never before been able to summon up the courage to take.

The criticism of before was nothing compared with the situation on the following Sunday. Battle lines had been drawn. Within a week, the news had been ‘leaked’ to the local press, and two days later it appeared in the national tabloids. Peter, Stanley, the wardens, even the choir, were involved in long and stressful meetings. Much of the normal work of the church had to be laid aside in order to make time for all these meetings. Then came the visitation from the bishop. Having privately heard the views of those most closely involved, he wanted to learn the consensus of the church. The meeting was very tense and, at its end, the bishop suggested a three-month ‘cooling-off’ period. This seemed to please no-one since it was felt that all methods of reconciliation had already been tried and had failed. The bishop departed to ponder the matter further.

A week later came the announcement that the bishop had confirmed Peter’s decision. Stanley served out his three months’ notice and, when he left, half of the choir and about a quarter of the congregation went with him. Some of the congregation eventually returned, but not until after Peter had himself left, a few years later. Stanley felt particularly bitter about the whole affair, the bitterness diminishing only after he had become organist of another church in the same town eighteen months after his dismissal. Peter soon found a new organist who was a keen evangelical. A contract of appointment was drawn up with the assistance of the Royal School of Church Music. This contract was for a period of five years with the possibility of renewal for fixed periods thereafter.


  • How should a vicar deal with the situation of a ‘sitting tenant’, especially a long-standing one?
  • To what extent should he take note of the organist’s views on worship, and to what lengths should he go to discover them?
  • To what extent should he make an effort to develop a satisfactory working relationship with the organist?
  • How important is it that an organist should have a contract of fixed length?
  • If a situation becomes intolerable, how should a vicar deal with the matter?

Previous extract
Next extract
Return to Weary and Ill At Ease Contents page
© R L. D. Rees 1993, 2000