A parishioner at St. Michael’s Church for the past three years has been asked to step down from his duties. The move has sent shockwaves through the community and left churchgoers with more questions than answers.
Bobby Glenn Brown has been an integral part of St. Michael’s Church ever since he was baptized there three years ago.
“He’s a very large presence,” 27-year St. Michael’s parishioner Kathy Crowley Andel said. “He’s in the choir; he’s a cantor; he has a beautiful voice. He’s also been on the parish council. He’s a lector. He’s done more in the time he’s been at St. Michael’s than probably a good portion of the congregation.”
However, despite his years of service, St. Michael’s pastor asked him to curb his involvement in the parish this past Sunday after it was learned that Bobby and his partner of 31 years exchanged vows at commitment ceremony over the weekend.
“Yesterday, when I went to church, I was greeted by Father Larry, if you will, and was explained that, because of the fake ceremony that I had, that I committed myself to another man, that I would no longer be able to lector, cantor or sing in the choir, that if I wanted to participate or worship, I could sit in the vestibule and listen but that I wasn’t allowed to be part of any ministry of the church anymore,” Bobby said.
Although Father Van Damme is one of the designated leaders of the church, not all of his followers were on board with the decision.
“I just think it’s wrong,” Andel said. “I felt so bad, I just turned around and left also. Everybody is supposed to be welcome in the Church and God is a loving God, and I don’t think we should discriminate against anybody because that’s not what God wants us to do. Even Jesus welcomed everybody.”
“It’s a mixed message, and I think it’s the wrong message,” Bobby said. “There is a psalm that says ‘loving and caring and forgiving are you, oh Lord’. That’s the message that needs to be brought to the students at Northern, especially to a church that’s so close to campus and a place where they should feel welcomed and able to worship. And that message is being lost.”
It’s a confusing matter, given the fact that most people in the church knew of Bobby’s orientation days, months, even years before yesterday’s falling out.
“The Bible that I know and the God that I know say — and I learned this in Sunday school a long time ago — ‘Jesus loves me; yes, I know, for the Bible told me so’,” Bobby said. “And my whole point was, I never was anything else and I always have been who I am. At one point, they asked if Don and I could live together as brothers. No, I couldn’t, because in those words, I feel it’s incestuous and that’s not what I want. That’s not who I am and that’s not what we were together for. I mean, several of our family members have been married and divorced several times, and a lot of them have asked us for advice and we give it willingly. Like I said, we spent 30 years together and we want to live another 31 together! To be told that you can’t worship or aren’t welcomed somewhere to worship where you’ve been so welcomed, that in itself sends a mixed message.”
Bobby has since decided to leave the parish in search of a more accepting place of worship, and a few others might be following suit.
“Other people that I have talked to are very upset about it,” Andel said. “They can’t believe it’s happened, for one thing, and I’m not sure where I’m going with things. I am looking at options. I mean, I was born and raised Catholic and have been very active with things, but at this time I just feel very, very crushed with what’s going on because I don’t think it’s right. It’s like, who are we to judge? And they’ve been together 30 years. They love each other, and I know a lot of other gay and lesbian couples that have been together, have loving families, have children, and it’s just not right what’s going on.”
We also reached out to Diocese of Marquette officials, including a pastor at St. Michael’s, Father Larry Van Damme. No one was able to speak with us on camera. However, Marquette Bishop John Doerfler provided us with a written statement.
It reads, “Everyone is invited to follow Jesus Christ and invited to be a part of the Catholic Church. One of the qualifications for public ministry within the Catholic Church is the willingness to give witness to the Gospel and the Church’s teachings. Such ministries include serving at Mass as a lector or cantor. The inability to serve in a ministry does not disqualify a person from being a member of the Church.”