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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am a church organist and have played for many weddings. After being underpaid, paid with knickknacks from the local gift shop, or not being paid at all because the couple assumed the music "came with the church," I decided to be more direct about my fees.

Now when a couple ask me to play for their wedding, I tell them up front what the cost will be, and what it covers (my travel time, the wedding rehearsal, providing music prior to the ceremony, etc.). I even ask them to please pay me at the rehearsal -- because it has been my experience that the best man, or the bride's father, or whoever had my check often forgot to give it to me in the excitement of the wedding day.

My "policy" as helped me avoid much confusion and hard feelings.

Pastors should be compensated for performing the service, and they need to speak up in this regard. I know it's often difficult to ask church members (or non-members) for money, but most folks are relieved not to have to guess at what might be an appropriate fee for weddings, funerals, etc.

As an aside, I was appalled when my own pastor told my fiance and me prior to our wedding that he had been paid anywhere from $10 to $500, and we should set our own payment. He and I were close enough friends that I could say, "My dentist doesn't let me decide how much I should pay him -- and you shouldn't either!" (He got the message.) -- PAID IN FULL IN KNOXVILLE, TENN.

DEAR PAID IN FULL: Thanks for clearing up a great many doubts in the minds of many. Some pastors and church organists are somewhat timid about mentioning "fees," so I'm printing your very helpful letter.

DEAR ABBY: I am writing to comment about the letter signed "Brokenhearted Mother," who didn't want Grandma, who lives 1,000 miles away, to know that her favorite grandson (age 19) was in jail.

Abby, your advice was the best ever. "Tell the truth, and tell it now," you said. "If you don't, it will be found out." I know. It happened to me.

My story is similar, only my parents live just around the corner. "Joey," our youngest (age 16) got mixed up with the wrong crowd and had to spend seven months in a detention center. I, too, made up excuses for his always being "away" when Grandma phoned. ("Joey is in the shower," or "Joey is in the darkroom developing.") I kept this up for four months. Finally my mother said, "I know where Joey is. He has been writing to us!" Needless to say, I felt like a fool.

When Joey came home, I helped him unpack, and I found a large collection of letters -- several from some of our neighbors! This surprised me. Joey said he wrote to almost everybody he knew, hoping they'd write back because getting mail was the only thing he had to look forward to -- besides getting out.

I've been reading your column for years, and this is the first time I've seen this problem mentioned. "Brokenhearted Mother" is not alone. -- BROKENHEARTED IN TORONTO

Abby's family recipes are included in her cookbooklet. Send a long, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Cookbooklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054. (Postage is included.)

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