Church Loses Congregation, Forced to Close After Refusing to Rehire Gay Choir Director
In what can only be seen as a shift in popular opinion, an Indiana church is shutting its doors after refusing to rehire a gay choir director. The new pastor at First United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Indiana, is blaming the church’s closure on a national downturn in attendance and donations, and is not admitting the drama that took place earlier this year had anything to do with it. Yet despite his refusal, former church leaders say as many as 80 percent of the congregation left after the choir director and others were either pushed out or asked to leave. Officially, the United Methodist Church (UMC) welcomes members of the LGBT community but does not allow them to have leadership roles. UMC rules also leave final decisions to the discretion of each individual church, and when one gay-friendly pastor left First United Methodist Alexandria, the choir director was no longer welcome.
Adam Fraley worked with the Indiana church for six years leading the choir and attending with his partner. He was welcomed by the previous pastor and well liked by the congregation. Yet when his pastor left to become a leader elsewhere in the UMC, an interim minister was not so keen on Fraley holding a leadership position in the church. According to an article at LGBTQ Nation, the interim pastor let Fraley know in no uncertain terms that he was uncomfortable with his orientation. After repeatedly asking Fraley to return to his ex-wife with whom he fathered a daughter, the pastor finally began assigning him extra work. Many UMC pastors and leaders hold other jobs outside of the church, and Fraley said these extra tasks were beyond his responsibility as choir director and began to effect his full-time job as a public school teacher. After refusing to leave his partner at the request of a stranger, Fraley decided instead to leave his position with First United Methodist Alexandria.
David Mantor came in as the new full-time pastor in Alexandria after Fraley had left as choir director. Soon after, Fraley asked respected lay leader Dr. David Steele if he would lobby Mantor to bring him back as choir director. Dr. Steele served as chief lay leader and also sat on the committee responsible for hiring any new church worker. According to the Christian Post, Mantor was at first willing to bring back the beloved choir director, but later turned away from his decision, citing Fraley’s sexual orientation. When news broke that Fraley would not be hired back, a UMC spokesperson said Fraley was turned down for the job simply because the church didn’t want to rehire someone who had left their job.
“The position was not open. Mr. Fraley had resigned earlier in the year and the pastor did not think it wise to re-hire him since he already have once resigned from the position,” said the UMC spokesperson.
Dr. David Steele wasn’t without harm in this story, either. Some senior members in the church were unhappy with his campaigning to bring Fraley back, and soon after, Dr. Steele was asked to resign from his post. After refusing, the church relieved him of his duties. Dr. Steele had been a member of the church for over 60 years and now says many people have also left the church after the way leadership handled the entire ordeal.
Dr. Steele claims as many as 80 percent of the congregation — many of whom are senior citizens — decided to leave the church in January as a result of both he and Fraley being pushed away. David Mantor, the church’s current pastor, will not attribute Dr. Steele and Fraley’s departure as reason for the sudden downturn in attendance and giving, but instead says this is a trend seen nationwide. First United Methodist was first built in the 1800s and has been a staple of the community for many decades.
The church and the LGBT community are often seen as enemies, with both sides accusing the other of aggression and oppression. Yet, the fact that 80 percent of a church are willing to find a new home after seeing a gay person mistreated shows signs of growth between the two communities. Hopefully this is only a part of a rising trend of warmth between the two communities as they work together to understand and embrace their differences.
Photo Credit: LGBTQNation.com
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