Thinking Out Loud

May 2, 2011

Orchestra Members Walk Out on Crystal Cathedral Concert

The paychecks they received were half of what they were verbally promised, so eight musicians representing one quarter of the Crystal Cathedral orchestra, decided to walk with just an hour remaining before showtime.*   The L. A. Times reported that the Cathedral later blamed accounting errors, but other parts of the story suggest that some orchestra members had not been paid for the previous Easter.

The impact this had, according to the cathedral, was minimal. 

About a quarter of the orchestra — including an oboist, flutist and four French horn players — walked out a mere hour before services began Sunday…

Crystal Cathedral spokesman John Charles said Easter services weren’t affected by the eight people who walked out. Checks have been sent to those who performed.

“No one would have ever known they were missing,” he said of the eight.

No one noticed the entire French horn section missing?  As a musician, that seems somewhat hard to fathom, and at least one woodwind blogger was insulted.  But not so hard to fathom is the underlying bitterness the musicians — like so many others having contracts to do work for the church — are feeling:

“This church is known for three things: an inspiring minister with a vision, fabulous music and wonderful architecture,” said oboe player Holly Patterson, one of the musicians who walked out Sunday. “Out of those three things, only one exists now.”

You can read the story at the L. A. Times; also this blogger has a friend who had to sue the church to get paid;  while a longer story in the Orange County Register, notes that a website has been formed to rally those who are fans of the church’s unique music:

A few members have started a new website,, which says its mission is to “host a gathering place for Hour of Power viewers and the local congregation interested in keeping alive the traditional music of the Crystal Cathedral.” Most of the music featured on the website is from before April 2011. The site says that some most recent music has been featured for “purposes of comparison only.”

Of course, some will argue that this is part of the folly of having paid church musicians; of having a system whereby ministry is being done so professionally, that only professionals participate; and that, in the average church, the musicians are all volunteers. Should churches use paid musicians to augment special seasonal performances, or use them regularly as do some churches?

*The choice of the word “showtime” as opposed to “church service” or “concert” was intentional.    

Click picture for photo credit.

The use of today’s discussion question is in no way intended to detract from the more obvious question: Should not churches pay their bills?


  1. I’ve often puzzled over the whole paid musicians at a church thing. As a Christian I have played at my church for free, and would be insulted if I had been offered money for worship. My guess is that a number of the paid musicians aren’t Christians and, for them, it’s just another job. One, I hope, they treat as any other, playing their absolute best, but one at which they expect to be treated fairly, as in any other job.

    Part of me cringes at hiring musicians. But part of me understands that presenting music at the highest level possible might take more than the typical volunteer. I find it a tricky question!

    Comment by patty — May 2, 2011 @ 10:24 am

    • You’re right that we’ll never get a total consensus on this issue. It may also be the case that some musicians see themselves as Christians, which is another issue entirely.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 2, 2011 @ 4:07 pm

  2. Crystal Cathedral has always left me cold. Self-Indulgent people in sterile surroundings with their hands out for blessings…Star studded guest lists, a “who’s who” testimony time…the fact that they paid (or actually failed to pay) their musicians was the least of their problems!

    I attended a church for awhile where professional musicians were paid to bolster the musical offering on holidays. It was music that I could find at any non-Christian venue in the spirit did not respond because it was a purely soulish affair.

    I suspect God washed His hands of this church a long time ago because they had planned and maneuvered Him right out of their agenda!

    Comment by Cynthia — May 2, 2011 @ 9:59 pm

    • I suspect God washed His hands of this church a long time ago because they had planned and maneuvered Him right out of their agenda!

      I’ve probably never read a better description of what’s going on there.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 2, 2011 @ 10:39 pm

  3. I’m not really familiar with the CC but I’m familiar with music ministry in general. I grew up playing piano in a church where no musician ever got paid. I loved it and never felt cheated. But many churches I know of paid their organists who were the worship leaders of their day.

    Recently, more churches have hired music pastors and have gone to a multiple service format. If the music pastor is getting paid, why not pay the musicians who are putting as much time in as he is on a Sunday and in rehearsals during the week? Also, many churches don’t have the talent within their own membership for what they want to do, so they hire extra musicians to fill in the gaps. But, if you’re paying the oboist, mightn’t the flute section feel cheated?

    At the big church we attended for a few years, because of the size of the church, people expected big productions at Easter & Christmas but the church didn’t cultivate a culture of appreciating music throughout the year so there weren’t as many musicians within the congregation as you would expect for a church of that size. The orchestra was opened up to musicians within the community but they weren’t paid. The extras just played for the joy of making music together. I played piano there some and it was at least a 10-hour per week commitment: 2 hour rehearsal Monday evening, 2 hour rehearsal Saturday morning, Sunday morning rehearsal/sound check and 3 services. Noone but the music pastor was paid but that feels a lot like a job to me.

    Should churches pay musicians? It probably depends on the church.

    Comment by Sharon — May 3, 2011 @ 9:21 am

    • Sharon, Thanks so much for your perspective. You raise some good issues here including the issue of the strain multiple services puts on worship personnel, but I especially liked your comment about the church which “didn’t cultivate a culture of appreciating music throughout the year.” That’s an interesting dynamic to consider; what can happen in a church where music “special productions” are foreign to the music commitment the rest of the church year.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 3, 2011 @ 4:34 pm

      • Yes, for the church I was referring to, Sunday morning music is a band, (what I fondly refer to as the garage band) a worship leader, and a varying number of other singers. Fairly typical for many churches now, I guess. We had a choir, which when we first started there sang fairly often and always included one song the congregation didn’t sing along with. (I guess it would be referred to as a “special”.) I was also a part of a small vocal ensemble which did more challenging music — we typically sang on Christmas Eve and did several other Sundays during the year.

        As time went on, the choir was singing mostly for show, singing only what the congregation was also singing and eventually the small vocal ensemble I was in was disbanded because there wasn’t a place for us in the services.

        Now, I get the current church philosophy which wants to get away from “performance” in favor of corporate worship. But, both as a congregant, and a musician, I appreciate good music. I like singing and playing good music and I like listening to it. For me, music reaches my soul like nothing else. A steady diet of garage band Sundays with only 1 or 2 opportunities in the year for other vocalists and musicians is going to make it difficult for the church to attract other musicians.

        I joined a community chorus this year to fill the musical hole in my life and it’s been incredibly satisfying but I mourn the loss of ministry.

        Comment by Sharon — May 3, 2011 @ 10:29 pm

  4. I never undersand that any of the singers, players, director etc would have to be paid, and quit if no so. That is donation that made this church. I have sing in many chorals in churches and as a christian I would be ashamed to have ask to be paid. Being Christian is trying to think, act and do acting and doing like Christ. Faith is not a business it is a way of life. Perhaps what is happening to the Crystal Cathedral is a repetition of ”Christ in the temple”. Out all hypocrits who make business in the House of the Lord.

    Comment by gislaine carignan — May 31, 2012 @ 10:37 am

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