Yesterday my daughter Martha sent me a link to a beautiful King's College Cambridge performance of the hymn Thou Who Wast Rich, which in French is the carol Quelle est cette Odeur Agréable, suggesting it might fit nicely in one of the tunes in the famous 1940 Hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church.  Not all the hymns in this book are equal, and it could use supplementation, but many of us still regard it as the finest in English.   

This set me to thinking that if there is ever a great hymnal published in the future, whether it is likely to be the job of a single individual, assisted and advised, but not interfered with, by others.  In the nature of the case, it seems to me that such a genius –and I use this word in the classical sense of "the possessor of a peculiar gift"–may be what is required for a result that in its inevitable imperfection is nevertheless great.  Only with the greatest rarity do committees of equals (in fact no such thing exists), produce what is needed in cases like this.  And this is the great age of the committee, an age to which bald recognitions of inequality–although the necessary practices of inequality remain–are anathema.  (It's all in St. Dilbert.)

The modern furor for the group-project set of mind is inculcated in children by the schools from their early years.  Although in some cases, on some levels, it is appropriate, in many where it is imposed, it is not.  It discourages talent, rarely serves whom it is supposed to help, and tends to produce mediocre results.  In my opinion, those who wish to advance by means of group projects should be required to show (1) that the method is well-designed to serve a clearly defined result, and (2) the necessity for the directed body to have a head has been adequately provided for.

One encounters numerous studies that contradict the prejudices of my experience on this account, demonstrating the desirability and success of such collaboration–and as such recognizing that it is something that needs to be defended.  What I suspect in the examples given is that the project is of such a nature that it does not require someone with supervisory authority (rare), or that those involved are of such single-minded accord that it, as it were, supervises itself (rarer still), or that those making the report are ignoring or concealing the almost inevitable lines of authority that normally and necessarily emerge when people collaborate.  This, I suspect, is what is usually happening. 

My most striking encounter with this kind of thinking was in knocking heads with the ideological authorities (!) of National Association Congregationalism.  In striving to achieve a pure form of congregationalism (unknown to the Congregationalists either in Salem or Plymoth), conventional pastoral authority was discouraged by undermining its basis in prescriptive doctrine.  By this removal, these blundering tinkerers produced power vacuums that were readily filled by those with an interest in filling them–frequently with disastrous results.  I don't know if the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches still bears the dubious distinction of being the fastest shrinking American denomination, but it once did.  There are reasons for this I think connected to their romantic notions about the way groups operate. 

God seemed to have been trying to tell us something when he established the teleological creature in the image and likeness of himself: not with no head, or an unofficial and imperceptible head, or two heads, or a multiplicity of heads, but one. (And yes, I do believe that the pope is our head pastor–which belief is quite insufficient  to make one a Roman Catholic.)