Episcopal priests rock the house with a religious message

03/15/2014 7:43 AM

03/15/2014 7:43 AM

MILWAUKEE – They call themselves the Rectors of Rock. The Fathers of Funk. The Collar Studs.

It’s all cheeky fun, but believe it or not, these four Episcopal priests live up to the billing.

Fathers Drew Bunting, Andrew Jones, David Simmons and Don Fleischman are the fab four of Monstrance, a rock, blues and country band more interested in fun than fame, whose members lend their considerable talents to worthy causes throughout the Milwaukee diocese.

“We’re not in this to make money. We know we’re never going on tour,” said Drew Bunting, priest-in-charge at St. James Episcopal Church in Milwaukee, who sings lead vocals and plays bass in the band. “We just want to have a good time. We know we have these gifts and we want to use them in service of the greater good.”

The good fathers fired up the amps under the stained glass windows of Simmons’ home church – St. Matthias in Waukesha, Wis. – for band practice on a recent Friday. There, they ripped through covers of Cheap Trick, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and the Ramones, not to mention an ecclesiastic parody of the J. Geils Band’s “Centerfold.”

“My blood runs cold, My liturgy has just been sold

My angel wears a “maniple,” goes the chorus.

“Ritual Notes on her desk, she’s chanting Benedictus Es

Surplice trimmed in too much lace really caught my eye

I was shakin’ in my shoes – she’s giving the K Street blues

I caught a whiff of incense, When angel passed close by

The bishop’s fancy crozier – Too magic to touch

Too see her in that vimpa veil Is really just too much”

“We take liberties,” said Bunting, who is known to wear tuxedo tails and Converse hightops in concert and punctuates their finales with a Pete Townshend leap.

And they do. Fleischman, who plays keyboard and acoustic guitar, adds accordion on Prince’s “Purple Rain.”

“You haven’t heard Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘Godzilla’ until you’ve heard it sung in the original Latin,” drummer Simmons boasts on the band’s website Monstrancerocks.com.

But there is some serious skill here. Simmons, Jones and Fleischman all majored in music as undergraduates.

And Bunting is a singer-songwriter who records professionally – mostly children’s and folk music – on the side. Fleischman played professionally in his earlier life. And Jones, who takes the solos on his Fender Strat, was a guitar technician for a while before seminary. He built one of the guitars he plays.

The band traces its start to a hotel bar in Middleton, Wis., where the four were kicking back after a long day at the 2009 Diocesan convention.

It didn’t take long before they realized they had the makings of a rock band among them. They roped in another friend – the not-so-musically inclined Father Seth Dietrich of Christ Church Episcopal in Whitefish Bay, Wis., became manager, though the title elicits guffaws every time they say it – and they were on their way.

They tossed around a few names, including DeKoven – for the 19th century Anglican priest and educator – before settling on Monstrance: a ritual vessel for displaying the holy Eucharist. (Don’t read too much into that, they say.)

Asked what any of this has to do with religion, they are quick to throw out some of their favorite quotes:

“John Calvin said, ‘He who sings prays twice,’” Fleishmann said.

To which the others added Bach’s “All Music is holy,” and Martin Luther’s supposed “Why should the devil get all the good tunes?”

“It lets people see us in a different way,” Jones said. “And maybe that opens doors for people who would not talk to us otherwise.”

Bunting added, “A big part of what we’re trying to do is to bring joy to an experience. When you’re ordained, you bring all of your gifts to the service of the church, and that includes for us our musical ability and the ability to laugh at oneself. I think for me, I’m bringing both of those things to the band.”

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