TAYLORS FALLS, MINN. — A pastor has dismissed three men from providing music at services when he found out they were gay and all of them were married.
Rev. John Drees began working for the Church of St. Joseph in Taylors Falls and the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Shafer, both in Minnesota, in July, according to the Associated Press. He dismissed Bob Barnard, Travis Loeffler and Dominic Mitchell last month.
The announcement came in the church bulletin for the Dec. 10 service.
“We are so blessed with such talented musicians at our parishes whose talent adds to the weekly liturgies,” it read. “Over the next few weeks, you may notice a change in the music and those playing it. Bob Bernard, our employed musician, serviced his last Mass with us last week. Dominic Mitchell, one of our accompanists, and Travis Loeffler, one of our cantors, will also no longer be playing music at our Masses.”
Those interested, and presumably not members of the LGBTQ community, were encouraged to let the church know if they were interested in “participating in this beautiful ministry.”
Bernard was an employee, Mitchell an independent contractor and his husband, Loeffler, a volunteer.
Loeffler said they were informed of the decision over the phone by Drees.
“I was shocked because I’m a volunteer, not paid,” Loeffler told the Country Messenger. “I said, ‘OK, this is a little bit of a surprise,’ and asked for an explanation. He said he wasn’t prepared to talk about it at that time.”
Bernard is also said to have learned via a conversation with the priest, who told him he was being fired because his marriage to a man went against church canon, reports the Pioneer Press.
Drees then talked with the church’s four trustees, giving the same reason for the dismissals and asking why the men’s same-sex marriages hadn’t been brought to his attention.
“I told Father Drees it’s the nature and the makeup of this community,” said Chris Hudspeth, a trustee and 40-year member of St. Joseph. “That’s why a lot of people come…it’s an inclusive community, and that’s why he didn’t hear anything.”
“Three out of four of us said no, this is not the way we do things around here,” reported Carol Schwinghammer, who added that the fourth trustee remained largely silent. She said the three who objected felt they were being informed of the change, not that it was being offered up for debate.
The Pioneer Press reached out to Drees for comment.
“It is our practice not to comment publicly on parish personnel and employment issues out of respect for all involved and affected,” he said.
He did admit that the decision had caused upset among some in his flock.
“I have heard from few parishioners. They have expressed their concerns but also their support and understanding.”
Bernard said that he plans to continue attending the church.
“I’ve been discouraging people from leaving. I don’t intend to leave,” he said, adding that none of the men wish to see this become “another ‘bash the Catholic Church’ story, and we’re emphatic about that.”
A similar issue is playing out in Jacksonville, North Carolina, where a former children’s choir director, Ryan Mould, was fired from Trinity United Methodist Church.
The church’s pastor, Rev. Steve Smith, after a conversation with him about his sexual orientation. Smith then led other church members to falsely believe that his sexuality meant he was not permitted to have a leadership role in the church.
While the firing has caused some members of the church to leave, Mould, like Bernard, has decided to continue attending the church that let him go, reports the United Methodist News Service.