Posted by: preacherjean | March 3, 2009

Scholarship Essay #3

How My Work as a Director Has Helped to
Prepare Me for My Life as a Priest

In my years in theater and music I have been a performer, a stage manager, a writer, and a director. Of all of these theatrical hats I’ve worn, I love directing the most and I think the same things that have drawn me to directing draw me now to the priesthood.

There are plenty of directors out there who look on directing as a power trip and the ultimate controlling experience. I’ve personally been directed by some of these people. To me, however, directing is much more of a collaborative, shared experience. Ultimately, the performers are the ones taking the risks and getting the applause. I have always felt that the director’s job is to share a vision of the play as a starting point, guide them in that shared vision, nurture the gifts that each actor brings to the boards and help shape those gifts into a form that best serves the common goal (the play), give them the framework to work in, and finally, let them go and get out of their way.

Along with pastoral care, spiritual guidance, and sacramental service, of course, I believe that a priest should be a director to his or her congregation. Many times, people will come to church wanting to “do something” but have no idea where to start. Being able to help someone discern his or her gifts, find a place to usefully and joyfully apply them, and getting out of their way so they can pursue their ministry is essential to the work of a minister. A priest can’t (nor should) do everything that needs doing in the life and work of a church, just as a stage director can’t play all of the roles in a play.

Along the way as a director, I have worked with some very challenging people. Sometimes, they have needed extra direction because they were fearful and lacked confidence. Sometimes, they felt too constrained by my direction and were acting out to get my attention. Sometimes, they were just challenging people – very talented people often can be hard to deal with. On occasion I have had to confront someone because their behavior was disruptive, but it’s very important to find out why someone is being challenging so you can meet their needs appropriately and move forward. Mainly, it’s important to recognize that you are pushing people out of their comfort zones, and to be flexible.

I know that a parish community presents the same kinds of people challenges, along with the additional problems that can be summed up in the phrase, “the way it’s always been done.” As in directing, preparation, flexibility, humor, good listening skills, the occasional firm word, and the ability to guide people to focusing on the goal at hand – serving God and each other – can do a lot to channel the challenging energies of a lot of diverse people.

I should put in a word here about collaborating. A lot of what I’ve directed was musical theater. In a musical, the creative team consists of the director, the music director, and the choreographer, along with the production designer, stage manager, and costumer you find in any play. However, the music director and choreographer work directly with the actors, and it’s important to make sure that they (the actors) aren’t getting mixed signals. As a singer, I can recall many times when the music director has said, “I know that’s what the director wants, but I want it to sound good so do it my way.” Or a choreographer has created a dance that makes it impossible to sing while dancing. And always the poor actor is in the middle. This is NOT conducive to a happy set!

There are many more leaders than just the priest in a parish – there are vestry members, lay leaders, deacons, assisting priests, etc. I can envision a similar dynamic to the dysfunctional creative theatrical team happening, with similar results, unless care is taken to prevent it. That care includes praying together, keeping lines of communications open, laughing together, and forgiving one another.

Finally, most of the time the play that the audience experiences on opening night is very different from a director’s initial vision, and, almost without exception, better. That’s the beauty of this shared effort and experience. The same is true in a church community. When parishioners discover their true ministries, the miracles they accomplish are far more wonderful than any single priest could envision or design on her own.

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