God and Man at Yale

WSCoffin.jpgA good, if slightly confusing, piece in The New York Times about Yale’s decision to kick a church off campus that has been affiliated with the university for well over 200 years.

Yale was founded by Congregationalist ministers — the story refers to them as “congregational ministers” — in 1701 and regularly held religious services. The university formed the Church of Christ in Yale in 1757 and the congregation has been meeting in the current Yale chapel, “an elaborate Victorian Gothic confection at Elm and College Streets,” since 1876.

This congregation became part of the United Church of Christ in 1961, when the Rev. William Sloan Coffin (pictured) was the pastor, and the usual sort of politics attached itself to the church. One of the 100 or so remaining congregants is described as a “Green Party activist.”

The Church of Christ in Yale has seen decreasing attendance, like many mainline Protestant churches. The Times gives us a window into this dynamic via a student. I’ve italicized a fun detail:

Ryan Hickey, a sophomore in the University Chapel Choir, whose members are paid to sing at the church, confirmed what was apparent from Sunday’s crowd of about 100 mostly middle-aged people. “Not that many students come,” said Mr. Hickey, who is not a congregant. On any given Sunday, he said, the vast majority of Yale students at the chapel are there to sing in the choir.

So the university has decided to kick the aging congregation out of a chapel that could seat 800 people and hold its own ecumenical Protestant services. The Church of Christ in Yale pastors who are identified are already on the university payroll and will continue to hold services for Yale students and the surrounding community.

The ousted congregation has decided to call itself the Shalom United Church of Christ.

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  • http://wildfaith.blogspot.com/ gratefulbear

    You wrote,
    Of the 100 of so remaining congregants is described as a “Green Party activist.” [sic]

    Can you please explain this sentence fragment? Are the 100 congregrants all “Green Party activists”?

  • Brian Lewis

    It may be a fun detail that choir members are paid to sing but it is also something that happens at churches around the country.

    Recently I covered religion in Nashville and some people thought it was fun Music City news that churches musicians to “perform” in church but I’ve never lived anywhere where some church didn’t pay either the musical director, organist, or also possibly the top soloist.

    That’s the way the church music business works. There are all volunteer choirs at some places, but it’s not unusual for there to be a little compensation for all the work involved.

  • RyanH

    I think the “fun detail” in this is that it seems the only reason why the students are there are because they’re paid to sing. Actually, that’s a sad detail–that a church physically located on campus is not reaching and ministering to the students “next door.” I’m pursuing formal education to be considered a “professional” in church music, direct a 35 voice choir–ranging in age from 17 to 70, and participate and lead praise teams. I am not compensated, nor are any of my choir members, nor my accompanist. Our church organists (we have 5) do receive compensation which they use to purchase music. None of our soloists, musicians or musical contributors from outside our congregation are compensated. I would go further than Brian Lewis’ comment (“it’s not unusual for there to be a little compensation”) and venture to say that musician compensation is the norm.