It all started with a phone call from the new interim pastor of Paradise Christian Church* (wink and tip of the hat to preacherlady).
“This is Reggie Dominy. I’m the new interim pastor here at Paradise Christian.”
“Yes. Good to talk to you.”
“I’ll be selecting the hymns for the worship service from now on. I guess you’ve been doing that for a while?”
“I’m really uncomfortable with that.”
“Why? That’s not typically the organist’s job.”
“Well, it’s part of my job description. I do it well and I’m not comfortable giving it up.”
And that’s how the battle began. That phone call lasted more than thirty minutes, and during that time, I found myself making some strong and defensive statements to a stranger who’s face I’d never seen. I felt attacked, especially when Reggie said that he had to pick the hymns because we needed to change the way we do things since attendance at worship had decreased. I told him that he was making it sound as if that was my fault; as if my music were the cause of people not attending worship services. Reggie said he wasn’t saying that, but how else could I read that implication in the context of this conversation?
In the first service over which Reggie presided, there were at least five statements that sent up red flags in my mind. From our phone conversation, it sounded like Reggie desired to create a solemn, even somber service steeped in traditional worship and laced with long moments of silence and reflection. Nothing could have been further from the reality of what happened that very first Sunday in November.
The humor was abundant as well as inappropriate. Reggie set the tone in the announcements which are made before the organ prelude and the official start of the worship service. As Thanksgiving was approaching and the Outreach committee was planning on giving food to several needy families, a plea was being made for congregants to donate canned goods. Reggie’s pitch went like this:
“You know that can of salsa you bought seven years ago and it’s been sitting there on your shelf and you don’t know why you bought it? Go ahead and bring that in for the food drive.”
It was then followed up with some muttered statement about buying a new can of something to go with it. The request for food donations was being played for laughs, while the sincere request was downplayed. Throughout the service we learned a few things. For instance, it became clear that Reggie loves to eat deviled eggs. And just in case someone might not have gotten that message, Reggie repeated his declaration of love for deviled eggs in the next four consecutive worship services. We also learned that he likes to hear jokes, and that we should feel free to tell him Polish jokes and “jew” jokes. For some reason, as Reggie made that statement, he hesitated, as though there were more kinds of jokes he enjoys, but felt it best to edit himself as this was part of his introductory sermon. We also learned that there is a proper way to introduce onesself, which, one would know how to do “if you’ve ever been to college.” What an effective way to discourage the “wrong” kind of people from attending church!
Most telling was the one particular family that Rev. Dr. Dominy made sure to mention in his sermon. It was the one family in which the husband has a great job, the wife is a SAHM, and the two daughters are involved in dance lessons, baton twirling corps, and kiddie pageants. They also happen to be the family who left the church in a huff, refusing to return until the full-time minister was either fired or resigned. Dr. Dominy made sure to say their names, or compliment the beauty of the daughters, or involve the family in most of the services during November.
On my last Sunday as music director, December 21st, Reggie did something that was at best unethical, and at the worst, creepy in the sense of looking too much like a child molester. As part of his sermon, he asked the two little girls, both under the age of 12, to come forward and model their new Christmas dresses. Embarassed, they walked to the chancel, where Reggie had them put their forefingers on their heads and do a ballerina turn for all to see the new outfits. Then, in spite of smaller children moving back and forth between the sanctuary and the nursery, Dr. Dominy gifted the two “models” with presents, to be opened there in front of everyone.
The weeks between that initial phone call and my final service were stressful. Communication between Dr. Dominy and myself was archaic. He would leave handwritten notes, in the most screeching hot pink ink, on the piano. I asked our secretary why he didn’t use email. She replied that he wasn’t very computer savvy. That statement that was refuted in the coming weeks when, during a sermon, Reggie mentioned looking things up on the internet. It was countered again in a meeting of the church committees in which one member spoke of the email exchange that he and Dr. Dominy had.
The hymns that Dr. Dominy chose were ancient, plodding tunes with dated language. Although one of his stated reasons for taking the hymn selections away from me was the need to match the hymn texts to the scriptures, I seldom saw how the two aligned themselves. Several times within those few weeks that Reggie and I worked in the same building, he repeated hymn choices. I was left wondering if he selected hymns the way he selected the Psalms for our worship services: numerically. On his first Sunday in worship at Paradise Christian Church, Dr. Dominy selected Psalm One for our call to worship. In subsequent weeks, the Psalms were used, in numerical order, regardless of the sermon topic, and regardless of the scheduled readings from the Revised Common Lectionary.
The final straw came on the morning of December 19th. I received a text message from our secretary asking me to call her asap. I replied with a request that she email me, as I had students all day (with my teaching position at a public school) and would not have a break to make a phone call until late in the day. The email arrived quickly, and in it, was a message from Dr. Dominy that said:
Ok here goes. Reggie left me a note to ask you if you got a brass ensemble for Christmas Eve. If you did, please get the name of the group and names of their songs to me on Monday. If you did not, please contact the band director at local school district. She has some names of students who might be available or some other musicians in the area. She can be contacted at local middle school xxx-xxx-xxxx Her name is middle school music teacher her e-mail address is someteacher@someschool.
I am sending you the bulletin stuff so that you can give me the song titles by Sunday (or Monday morning at the latest) The ones in pink he would like the brass ensemble to do and he would like the choir and the brass ensemble to join in on the other carols as well.
Reggie said to contact him if you had any questions or suggestions. xxx-xxx-xxxx
Interesting thing about this email: I do not recall having a conversation with Reggie in which firm plans were ever made about the Christmas Eve service, let alone such an important detail about hiring or assembling a Brass Ensemble for the service. At my first opportunity to call, I phoned Dr. Dominy. In that phone call, I was verbally pushed around. During a break from ministry, Reggie had been a car salesman, and a good one according to some accounts. I could tell that I was being manipulated by his words. He objected to my statements about why it would be impossible to assemble a brass ensemble just five days before the performance. He interrupted me. He cut me off. He dismissed my professional musical advice. Then I figured out what was going on. I was being placed in a “catch 22” situation: fail to assemble the ensemble, and Reggie could claim I’m not doing my job; get one together in short order with no time to rehearse, no many to pay them, no music to give them, and have a disastrous performance on Christmas Eve and he could say that I didn’t do my job as well as I should have. For me, given all that I had witnessed in the previous weeks, my only option was to resign. My plan was to do so immediately, leave them without a musician for Sunday morning as well as Christmas Eve, but friends talked me out that plan.
I learned that the committee charged with finding this interim pastor had failed to check his references. They hadn’t bothered to call his former churches and talk to them about his strengths and weaknesses. After handing in my resignation letter, and feeling crappy for about 24 hours, I decided that I’d look to see what I could find on this guy. I did a search for “Dr. Reggie Dominy” on Google and discovered that the guy is pretty computer savvy, contrary to previous claims.
I also found one particular piece of information that confirms what I suspected from that very first phone conversation. Reggie seemed to have some contempt for me from the very beginning. It didn’t make sense that an interim pastor would walk in and start changing things before ever experiencing a worship service in the way that the members were accustomed to worshipping. Interim pastors usually keep things going, the status quo, until the permanent pastor is hired. This bit of information explains why he and I could never work together.
In the eight weeks in which both of us, interim pastor and music director, tried to do our duties, there was rarely a moment of kindness, of friendship, even an attempt to understand each other. Attempts by Reggie to put up a facade of respecting and valuing me, at least in front of the congregation, fell flat. At one service, Dr. Dominy said that he appreciated the “beautiful competency” that I brought to the services. Competency? Well, I must have some adequate skills when it comes to music. It’s like saying “I love you” to someone and hearing “and I’m fond of you as well.”
What could make us resist each other like oil and water? The search results contained a major clue: a letter to the editor of an online denominational magazine, written by one Dr. Reggie Dominy. Here are some relevant excerpts:
I have no problem deleting statements from the Barman Confession (ah, another confession) that are editorial additions and weren’t originally there. Make it pure! I do have problems with ignoring cogent statements in the New Testament regarding homosexuality (Romans chapter 1 seems rather clear.) The Scriptures have to be our final authority about the actions and directions of God. What makes an action a sin at the time written but not in the present? More people lie and cheat others than participate in homosexual activity, and we all seem born with that narcissistic trait (this makes it a natural act); maybe the Church should support, or at least condone, lying and cheating.
I hurt for gays and lesbians who have in the past been wrongly excluded from the Church. I also hurt for those devout Christians who believe the Presbyterian Church has abandoned them in this decision. They feel NO peace, NO unity, NO purity in the General Assembly decisions. Our voted inclusivity feels like exclusivity for many devout Presbyterians. They feel the Scriptures have been ignored. Many will leave the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Whole churches will leave. We do not now exclude homosexuals from church membership; but our ushering in their ability to be church officers and ministers will usher out other true believers from the whole church.
There were times in the past when portions of our Presbyterian Church supported slavery. There were times when we excluded folks from the Lord’s Table because they weren’t of our ilk. There were times when we Presbyterians haughtily looked down on those who were not like us in faith and practice. There were times when women could not be ordained. We overcame and grew through those parochial sins.
There’s so much there that I could write about, and perhaps I will examine more of this letter on this blog at some point. The important thing to notice is that while attempting to sound compassionate, even loving toward the “homosexuals” it is clear that Dr. Dominy does not like gay and lesbian people. Nothing else explains his immediate dislike for me, nothing else explains why he felt the need to change my job description, nothing else explains why he created a situation with the purpose to tarnish my integrity with a congregation who felt I was doing a fine job for them.
Dr. Dominy believes that my orientation is a choice, and as such, is a sin, much like lying and cheating. For him, the scripture about such things is clear, although, he’s managed to find some grace in the Bible for himself, being a divorced man. There are many more scriptures concerning divorce, than there are homosexuality. Reggie hurts for gays and lesbians who feel excluded from the church, but then goes on to reinforce that exclusion. Homosexuals are welcome to be members in the church, but if they are given positions of authority, church officers and ministers, then true believers will leave the church. Did you catch that? Whether Reggie admits it or not, whether he would claim his words as his own or deny them, it’s stated clearly in that letter, gays and lesbians are not true christians.
My mind goes back to that phone call. I recall Dr. Reggie’s claim that if he had known I was going to be so opposed to his removal of my job duties, that the phone conversation was going to go so poorly, he would have come to my house and visited with me and my…friend. He choked on the word “friend.” I didn’t correct him and say “husband” because I felt like I had said so much that was in direct confrontation that I didn’t need to add to the tension of that phone call. I can never file charges of discrimination because I resigned voluntarily. Even if I had been fired, the situation created by Reggie would have appeared to be a legitimate reason to do so. Discrimination, prejudice, and bigotry is seldom blatant, but at church it is couched in the language of love and compassion, making it all the more painful.
A final word to my friends at Paradise Christian Church: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
*all the names have been changed