Catholic Church dispute

MARQUETTE – After 30 years of being in a loving relationship with his partner, area resident Bobby Glenn Brown celebrated that love with friends and family during a commitment ceremony Saturday.

On Sunday, Brown was asked to cease his active involvement with St. Michael Parish in Marquette, where he had been attending services for roughly the last decade and had become heavily involved in the last three years.

The problem?

The ceremony was in celebration of a gay couple, Brown and his partner, Don Roberts.

“It really was a surprise,” Brown said of the parish priest’s reaction to the ceremony. “I’ve never hidden publicly or personally to anyone the life that I lead or the man that I am. I was excited. It was the first day that I committed myself to someone who I’ve been living with for 30 years. So, yes, it was a surprise.”

Brown said the commitment ceremony was planned after he and Roberts were unable to get a marriage license in the short amount of time it was legal for same-sex couples to do so in Michigan.

“June 14, in our heart and soul, will always be our anniversary and our marriage day,” Brown said.

Brown said he arrived at church early Sunday to practice the psalm he was to sing that day. Brown was a cantor and a lector at St. Michael Catholic Church and had served on the church’s pastoral council for about three years.

“The priest asked me to step out into the lobby of the church, away from the sanctuary,” Brown said. “He said, ‘I understand you had a fake ceremony.'”

Brown said he told the priest about the commitment ceremony, even showing him the ring he now wears.

Brown said he then was told he could no longer be a lector or a cantor. He could not sing in the choir because he would be in front of the congregation and he had no place there since he had committed himself to another man.

Brown said he was told he could sit in the vestibule and listen.

It was hard news to hear for a man whose life has always included worship and whose passion for singing is well known throughout the community.

“There was a lot of mixed emotions obviously, and feelings,” Brown said. “I’ve always felt so loved and cared for there.”

He said he decided to leave instead of listen to the day’s mass and walked out of the church. Five other parishioners walked out with him.

“The outpouring I’ve gotten from parishioners not only at St. Michael but elsewhere in the community, we’ve been asked by several different churches to come and worship with them,” Brown said.

Brown is no stranger to religion. He was raised Mormon, attended a summer camp for Jewish boys, sang in the choir at St. Peter Cathedral during high school and decided to become a Catholic after he was invited by friends to attend St. Michael approximately 10 years ago.

He was baptized and confirmed in the church three years ago.

Brown chose to resign from the pastoral council Monday.

“I just need time and space away from St. Michael,” Brown said. “I believe God is anywhere. In my car, in your backyard, so long as you believe and you know your life is committed to him, he is everywhere and you don’t have to be in a church to speak to him or be with him.”

Bishop John Doerfler released this written statement about Sunday’s events:

“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.”