By Linda Stoterau

Your organist is celebrating a major wedding anniversary and is planning a 10-day cruise. You get a phone call on Saturday morning from your organist that she has severe back pain and the doctor has ordered bed rest for at least 48 hours. The organist’s spouse has just accepted a new job offer — to another state and they are leaving in three weeks! What’s common to each of these scenarios? You need a substitute organist!

First and foremost, you want your substitute to lead the congregational singing and not detract from the worship that’s planned. Here are a few ideas to ensure a smooth transition to someone different “on the bench.”

The substitute will need time to set up and prepare for the service. Provide some options for time on a day prior to Sunday or arrange for early admittance to the sanctuary on Sunday morning, especially if the substitute is traveling some distance. Allow at least one to two hours prior to the first service.

The church should provide copies of the accompaniment editions for both the liturgy and the hymns. This is crucial especially if the visiting organist is unfamiliar with LCMS worship.

The visiting organist will want answers to many questions — some in advance and others in morning consultation with the pastor. Answering in advance will assist the visiting organist in planning and allow the Sunday morning review of the service to be more efficient.

  • Which liturgy will be used? Does the pastor chant? Is the liturgy used as printed or does local practice modify the normal rubrics? For example, local practice includes sung responses even when the pastor speaks the liturgy. Are introductions to the sung portions of the liturgy required or will the congregation sing immediately with the organ?
  • What are the hymns? All or selected stanzas? Does local practice include singing “amen” on Doxology stanzas, not at all or on all final stanzas? Does the congregation stand for Doxology stanzas? (Organists will want to prepare an interlude when congregations stand for identified stanzas.)
  • Which tone(s) will be used if the psalm or Gradual is chanted? Accompanied or unaccompanied?
  • Is there accompaniment required for a choir or a soloist? Provide music as soon as possible. Is there need for a rehearsal? How is that arranged?
  • Is the organ normally locked? If so, be sure whoever is meeting the substitute has a key or someone has unlocked it.
  • Is there a unique way to turn on the organ? (“Oh, I forgot to tell you that the switch on the wall over there has to be on for the power to come to the organ!”)
  • If there are multiple memories on the organ, which one (or more) is available for resetting by the substitute? How does one find those memories since each brand tends to do so in a different way?
  • Is there a prelude? Is it considered pre-service music or does it occur at the time the service begins? What is the preferred amount of time?
  • Will there be any announcements and where will they occur? There is nothing worse than the visiting organist to have launched into a robust postlude only to be waved down by the pastor because he needs to make announcements!

When meeting with the visiting organist on Sunday morning to review the service, go through the worship folder page by page and identify any inclusions or deletions that are local practice. By so doing, the organist can note them in the folder and not need to rely on memory. Normally the visiting organist would receive remuneration on the day of the service; if that is not possible because of short notice, convey that information during the Sunday morning review.

In short, treat the substitute organist kindly; you may need a repeat performance!

About Unwrapping the Gifts
Unwrapping the Gifts is a bimonthly publication of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod Worship Ministry devoted to providing resources for worship. Everyone involved in planning worship is encouraged to subscribe to the Unwrapping the Gifts RSS feed.

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