Indiana Methodist congregation walks out over refusal to rehire gay choir director and firing of popular lay leader
|Courtesy of Adam Fraley|
ALEXANDRIA -- Members of a Methodist church congregation in this city 46 miles northeast of Indianapolis are demanding that they be given control of their church back, after a popular gay choir director was forced to resign and a respected church lay leader- who had been a member for nearly 60 years- was fired for his support of the choir director.
That action in December by United Methodist Church officials caused 80% of the congregants to walk out. The majority of congregants who walked and were vocally open about their support of both the choir director and the lay leader had an average age of nearly 80.
According to Adam Fraley, the church’s former choral director, the issue stemmed from earllier this past year when the then pastor left to take a leadership position with the Methodist church's governing council and the interim minster made it clear he was very uncomfortable with Fraley's sexual orientation.
In a interview Monday with LGBTQ Nation, Fraley said that the problem wasn't that the pastor was disrespectful-he wasn't- it was conversations questioning why Fraley who was previously married and had a daughter couldn't reconcile with his wife, along with pointed observations about biblical values.
The other issue he said was that the minister kept adding to his [Fraley's] workload above and beyond his responsibilities and duties as choir director in the operation of the church services, finally he said, he resigned out of frustration and because the added workload was interfering with his full time job as a public school teacher.
Dr. David Steele a local dentist and his wife Nancy were an active part of the choir and congregation, Dr. Steele serving as the chief lay leader who assisted the pastor and also was on a committee that selected church workers ranging from choir director to janitor. Steele told LGBTQ Nation that not long after Fraley resigned from the church, the interim minster departed and the Methodist Council sent another candidate as minister for the congregation to consider. According to Steele, the congregation were hopeful that the new minster, David Mantor would allow Fraley back into his old position, and Steele said that Mantor was pointedly asked if he would and initially agreed, but changed his mind.
Fraley told LGBTQ Nation that he was first told in October 2013 that he would be allowed to resume his duties as choir director but then Dr. Steele called and told him that Mantor had reneged on the agreement. Steeles said that Fraley had previously functioned as choir director for about six years, and church members were more than satisfied with his work and had no problem with his sexual orientation. Steele added that Fraley's partner had also been attending services and that the men's presence was far from being a disruption.
Steele said that in early December matters had come to head when he was called into the church for a meeting with Mantor and Michelle Cobb, the District Superintendent for the United Methodist Conference. Steele said that Cobb informed him that Fraley was not going to be re-hired as the church’s choral director because of his sexual orientation and that his [Steele] services would not be needed either, as superintendent Cobb felt Steele was not supporting the positions of the minister therefore was neglecting his duties as a lay leader.
According to United Methodist Church doctrine and practices, gay people are welcome to attend services but the line is drawn at positions of leadership. The law states, “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”
Steele said that he and the congregants that left maintain that outside of the appointment of ministers, the church's membership decide who they want in those lay or worker positions.
Dan Gangler, director of communications for the United Methodist Conference confirmed that the church only prohibits practicing gays being ordained.
"Any other leadership positions should be filled at the discretion of the congregation and the minister," he said.
Fraley and Steele both say this is a civil rights issue, Fraley added that the fact that he is gay should have no bearing on how he conducts the music program which he said is not lessened or enhanced because he's gay. Steele agrees pointing out that Fraley's sexual orientation has no reflection on his character.
Fraley told LGBTQ Nation he would come back if offered the job and the Steele said he would also return but at this point there has been no effort by church officials to negotiate a resolution.