There’s No Seniority in Community

It’s that time of year when our family’s life revolves around rehearsals and performances at The Rep–our local repertory theater–where our daughter is, for the fourth summer in a row, completely engrossed in their Summer Musical Theater Intensive (SMTI) program.

This summer they have departed from their usual musical revue  and have staged a new version of Godspell with contemporary music and updated cultural references. The Senior show ran last weekend and now the young kids (AKA the Juniors) have a crack at it.

At the senior show and the junior show, the role of Jesus was and will be played by newcomers. It was SR Jesus’s first SMTI ever, and JR Jesus has been absent from the program for the last two years. While we have a girl child (and even though this is a remake, they didn’t go with a female Jesus. We are in Arkansas and The Rep does need to fund its programming), I imagine that some of the talented young men who have been in the program for many years have to wonder why someone with more time logged in the program didn’t land the lead role.

The SMTI director is somewhat of a casting savant. She is weirdly good at putting the right people in the right roles, and whether you’ve been part of the program for five years or five minutes, she’s going to put you where she thinks you fit in to her vision for that particular show at that particular time.  So a newbie has as good a shot as a veteran at the plumb parts. And it has to be that way. If seniority counted, then kids like my daughter and her group of friends who started the program as soon as they were old enough, would always have a leg up on their peers who came into the program later on. Then it would always be a them and us kind of program.  And in spite of the fact that the program is a rigorous, audition-based, performing arts program, SMTI is more about community than it is about competition. And the notion of seniority kills community. It allows those who land the long monologues and the soaring songs and the flashy dance numbers to operate from a place of entitlement and power rather than a place of growing and sharing their gifts and talents.

Most churches could learn something from the SMTI program. One of the biggest challenges I see in churches that are struggling is this notion of seniority. Those who have toiled in the trenches of church work for the last 30 or 40 years  begin to function as if it is their church rather than the church of Jesus Christ and feel entitled to determine how the church will operate. Newcomers are expected to pay their dues and work their way up to being in charge of anything or having any real voice in the ministry of the church. Again, the notion of seniority kills community. It turns leadership roles in the church into positions of power rather than places of servant ministry.

So that new guy with the amazing baritone voice gets to sing the “special” next Sunday even though he hasn’t logged the requisite hours of choir practice. And you better put that 23-year-old project manager in charge of whatever ministry team has the most moving parts–even if she’s never volunteered in that area before. And that new single-mom, raising three kids just might be a valuable asset to your Christian Ed program.  Community cannot be hierarchical or seniority based. For community to work, everyone’s gifts must be put to the best use possible, and everyone should have equal opportunities to follow his or her own call to ministry–no matter when they arrived on the scene.

There’s no seniority in SMTI, and there’s no seniority in church–not if you want to build something real that lasts beyond the curtain call or Sunday’s closing prayer.

–Rev. Anne Russ


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