When your parish community disappoints you.

God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.

This past Sunday, I attended 1100 Contemporary Mass at our church and listened to my daughter play her trumpet for the Lord for the final time as a member of our church’s Youth Band. My daughter is just finishing her junior year of high school and she’s been a member of our church’s youth band since 8th grade. She’s always loved it and felt honored and inspired to be part of something so meaningful that didn’t involve her school work. This year was different for her. The music director added several new choral youth musicians to the group. My daughter sensed the dynamics had changed and didn’t feel like she and her trumpet fit in anymore. There were times she’d attend weekly Thursday evening rehearsal and there was no music for her to rehearse because no one prepared her music for her. She’d wonder why she even bothered to stay at rehearsal. There were other things that happened that bothered my daughter and I could feel her growing frustration. It broke my heart a little when my daughter told me she felt like she didn’t fit in anymore and wanted to resign after the school year was over. I supported her decision immediately. This is supposed to be church. Aren’t we all supposed to fit in? God accepts us and welcomes us with open arms but the parish community? Not really. I don’t think we all really fit into the parish community.

I earned my Bachelor of Science in Nursing from a small Catholic women’s Liberal Arts college. Because it was a Catholic college, the school required we take two religion courses. That was fine by me, I was there as an adult learner already 14 years out of nursing school and I was ready to expand my mind!  Plus, I’m Catholic. I attended public schools throughout my youth so it was nice to receive a Catholic education. I took a biblical studies course which focused on the bible from a historical perspective and a spirituality course. I loved everything about those two courses.

One thing that always resonated with me since the Spirituality course was what I read in The Holy Longing the Search for a Christian Spirituality by Ronald Rolheiser. Rolheiser suggests that Jesus prescribed four essentials for a healthy spiritual life; private prayer and mortality, social justice, mellowness of heart and spirit and community as a constitutive element for true worship.

So let’s break this down. I’m a baptized and confirmed Catholic. I was married in the Catholic Church, my children are baptized and confirmed, I pray every day, I treat people according to the ten commandments, my heart is at peace, I give money to the church and attend Mass but not as much as I should, twice a month.  Never in my life have I ever felt genuinely welcome by the parish community or any parish community I’ve belonged to. Do I volunteer for the church? No, I work full time by healing the sick and I volunteer for my daughter’s band program. Do I make eye contact with the Priest and nod my head in agreement when his homilies touch my soul? Always. Is it because my kids do not attend Catholic school? Is it because I don’t volunteer at the church or is it because I’m not visible to the Priest enough or in his subconscious mind or in anyone’s subconscious mind at the parish? When my daughter came to tell me that she felt she didn’t fit into a group that she once loved so much, my own frustration with the parish community returned with a vengeance.

So how are we supposed to achieve a healthy spiritual life if one of the four essentials is missing and you don’t feel like you’ll ever be able to achieve it? The answer to that question still eludes me.

After the first reading in a Catholic mass, there is a Responsorial Psalm with singing and musical instruments. This week’s Responsorial Psalm couldn’t be more fitting as my daughter’s time with the youth band comes to an end. God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.

My daughter got to play some trumpet solos for that song; a bittersweet ending. It was as if God was personally telling me he appreciated my daughter playing her trumpet for him for the past four years and that it was ok for her to resign, that he understood.

After Mass we went to the basement of the church for a little party celebrating some of the recent high school graduates of the youth band. I walked away for a few minutes so my daughter could confront the youth band director to resign. My girl cried a little but she had the courage to say what was in her heart, “the dymanics have changed and I don’t feel like my trumpet fits in anymore.” My daughter felt as if the youth band director “didn’t hear” her, didn’t grasp that she was resigning and that her decision was final.

Later on, the youth band director approached our table. It was only my daughter and I at the table because the other people who were at the table when I sat down, moved. The youth band director addressed my daughter’s feelings and we spokes for a few minutes. I sensed she was trying to find a way for my daughter to continue with the band and hadn’t accepted that my daughter is finished there. As the conversation was coming to an end I began to share a recent music experience through school that my daughter was involved in and very happy about. In a split second my ability to read people’s body language and facial expressions radar alerted me that the woman wasn’t interested. I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there.

I left church on Sunday feeling disappointed. Disappointed for feeling like an outsider in a place that should make you feel welcome. Disappointed the youth band director never fully grasped my daughter’s music abilities and utilized them. Disappointed yes but very proud of my daughter for speaking her mind and removing herself from a situation that didn’t make her feel good anymore.




It’s Just a Chair

My daughter started high school two weeks ago. She’d had difficulty falling asleep the night before school started. She said she couldn’t quiet her mind. Deep down inside, I knew what she was thinking: Will I be accepted by my peers? Will I succeed in high school? We all had those worries as teenagers.

My daughter is my extroverted, free spirited child that thinks outside of the box. She always has been. She has a wide variety of friends that I can’t keep track of. Every other week she has a new college major in mind. She can teach our dog to do tricks when none of us have the patience. She figures out algebra and geometry equations in her head without showing her work, which is way over my head. At a young age she’d find complicated ways of moving tiles around the Rummy Cube game just to make one play. When she was 4 1/2 she figured out how to use two game pieces on the same square to block other players from getting around the Parcheesi game board. She’s open to trying new things and she accepts situations in life as they come.

I’ve mentioned before that my kids are band kids. My daughter has played trumpet since fifth grade. She named her trumpet Treena. Midway through her seventh grade year, she began taking lessons with one of the high school band directors. In the spring of her eighth grade year we learned that she had been place in Wind Ensemble as a freshman. Wind Ensemble is the highest level and gifted and talented band class. She was flattered and extremely thankful for the opportunity. My son didn’t get into that class until he was a junior in high school. She’s always the first to admit when she thinks she messed up an audition or a piece of music. Last week, they had seat placement auditions in her class. There are five trumpets. She practiced. She had lessons. Naturally when she said the audition went well I anticipated her earning at least second trumpet music. She came home yesterday and said she’d been given third trumpet music and placed in the last seat. She also said the band director advised them that second and third trumpet music would alternate.

My jaw dropped and my mouth is perpetually hanging open. We don’t put pressure on our kids to achieve certain things but we do expect A’s and B’s. Also, I don’t claim that my daughter is a Miles Davis or Louis Armstrong but I know the girl can hold her own with her trumpet. Inside I’m wondering if the band director thinks my daughter stinks. It bugs me I guess because I did poorly in high school and I’m so proud of my kids because they’ve exceeded our expectations and will not go into college swimming against the current with their heads barely above water like I did.

Really though, third trumpet last seat? Instinctively I confided in one of my band parent friends who has a family music back ground and who’s sons who’d graduated in 2014 and 2015 and were also in that class. I also spoke to my son who graduated this year. Both said seat placement is a complicated matter and there’s reasons musicians are placed in certain seats and just because she’s in the last seat doesn’t mean she stinks. My friend also advised me that if it doesn’t bother her, it shouldn’t bother me. So I asked her if her seat placement bothered her. She said, “it’s just a chair”.

I admire her for that. She doesn’t sweat the small stuff. In her mind she was placed where she was placed and she accepts that. She doesn’t have to know the reason. She just wants to play her trumpet and learn challenging music. I know that her being in that class will not only enhance her trumpet playing skills, it will expand her ability to think outside of the box even more. So I’ll let it go. After all, it is just a chair.