Exclusivity / inclusivity, these are two buzz words that often determine the relationship between an individual person and a corporate entity like a local or wider church. One of my brother priests has done a YouTube talk on commitment in the church community. Fr Jonathan is a very thoughtful priest in his efforts to adapt to different kinds of ministry in our little Church. One thing he emphasises is the “comfort” factor, that of people failing to become committed through fear of being uncomfortable or some degree of selfishness. He doesn’t mention the latter word but it may be in his thoughts.
In bewailing the dying church institutions, many priests and bishops fail to mention a degree of exclusivity in the existing community. The opposite of exclusivity is inclusivity, which can become a buzz word for certain kinds of identity politics. I would like to exclude this rigid ideology and belief system from my own reflection about the idea of combating exclusivity in favour of inclusivity.
What is exclusivity? I include here a video about Léonce de Saint-Martin, a brilliant French organist who occupied the organist’s post at Notre-Dame in Paris between Louis Vierne who died in 1937 and Pierre Cochereau who succeeded him in 1954.
The story is poignant. The main issue was that Saint-Martin, though from an aristocratic family (and remotely related to the mystic philosopher Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin), had not been trained at the Grand Conservatoire in Paris, the exclusive “club” for professional musicians in France. Saint-Martin was branded an “amateur” because he had not been to this school. Instead, he had private lessons with some of the great Parisian organists of his time, but was too old to be accepted by the Conservatoire on account of having studied law and done his military service. The video, which I hope you will watch, features several compositions by Saint-Martin. The harrowing story is related about Vierne’s deteriorating mental health prior to his death in 1937.
I have known something of this “club” mentality in England. It is found in every walk of life, separating the “upper crust” from the amateurs. I have heard about some very snobbish sailing clubs where there are some strange criteria for those who are welcome and those who are not. I belong to the Dinghy Cruising Association, which is simply open to people who love sailing for reasons other than competition and racing. Being an unashamed amateur (meaning someone who loves something) is something positive for the quality of our lives. We do something because we like it. We might be more or less good at it, but we are always learning new skills as we go along. Also, it’s not something we do to earn our living, but for pleasure and personal development, often with an association.
The organ world in England is also quite toxic, both those who play the instrument and organ builders. One sign is a degree of purism, a particular kind of music or organ design rather than the wideness and diversity of the good amateur. I have known a brilliant organ designer who left the organ world totally and that would not have been good for his self-esteem. A young cathedral organist severed his connections with that world, but does a YouTube channel playing his Hauptwerk digital organ at home (which sounds like a cathedral organ) and does virtual concerts on real cathedral organs. See Beauty in Sound with Richard McVeigh.
In France between the wars, just the time of Léonce de Saint-Martin, there was a group of musicians who fought against this stuffiness. They were known as Les Six. They reacted away from neo-Romanticism and impressionism, seeking a more popular style for the young people in Paris. Despite his appearance and the style of music he composed to earn his living, Edward Elgar also represented a certain reaction from Parry and Stanford by his intimate and tuneful style when not writing imperial marches. He was softly spoken with a slight West Country accent, definitely not one of the “club”.
Now, I come to churches. Here in France, the traditionalist world is very connected with la-di-da bourgeois or minor aristocratic families from Versailles. I have been a seminarian with a priestly institute that was certainly geared towards that kind of “club” mentality. It doesn’t help to be English! I was accepted, and made myself useful with my organ playing, having made the old chapel organ playable. However, the limit of tolerance was felt in the unspoken realm, something we aspies are supposed not to experience in any way.
This can also happen in parishes with the pseudo-clericalism of groups of lay pastoral assistants (political activists?). It is a reflection of the old clericalism against which anti-clericalism rose its ugly head at the beginning of the twentieth century. Newcomers are put off by the rigid barrier the “club” holds against them. As a result, parishes become inward-looking, and then they die.
In a certain way, I can understand what Pope Francis is trying to do, though I oppose his policy of excluding traditionalists, even if they promote the “club” mentality. He is trying to set up a synodal system like in the Orthodox and Anglican Churches. We have a Provincial Synod in America and diocesan Synods. Thus we have a democratic and decentralised style of government. Maybe Pope Francis is pushing his Church towards some kind of Woke-ish ideology. Is he? That is the problem. Also, synodality can create a new form of clericalism and exclusivity as bureaucracy and collectivism enter the picture. There has to be a solid philosophy of the human person and the relationship with society and the collective.
We can’t legislate policies to improve our sense of diversity and inclusivity (again making a distinction from toxic ideologies using these words), but we can try to be good persons and do things differently from the way the group does. People who have this ability to be themselves are rare, and end up as saints! It take a lot to be an eccentric and fight the current in order to bring about authenticity and the spirit of Christ. In the end, it isn’t about people enjoying life and being too comfortable at home, but rather about what the Church is doing to welcome people, their talents and originality and be those who clear new ground.