By Steve Waring
Monstrance has been the Diocese of Milwaukee’s all-priest rock band since forming at a conference in 2009. The quartet’s catalogue includes four recorded CDs and five live performances in front of ever-larger numbers of “Monstrocker” fans who follow the group on its website and on Facebook.
“Sometimes people show up out of obligation,” said the Rev. Andy Jones, lead guitarist and rector of St. Andrew’s Church, Madison, since 2006. “We surprise people because we can really play. It gives people a chance to see clergy out of their comfort roles, and that’s a good thing.”
The band chose its name during a clergy retreat at a Roman Catholic conference center. The room where the founding members met was a storage area for several monstrances.
“We’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that name,” said the Rev. Don Fleischman, rector of St. Barnabas Church, Richland Center. Fleischman, who grew up taking piano lessons, played jazz for about 20 years after completing a music degree at Western Michigan University. With Monstrance, he plays the keyboards, acoustic guitar, and — on one song — the accordion.. Fleischman said he loves playing in a band again, especially since the other members have done most of the paperwork and bookings.
“I just show up and do what they say,” he said, laughing.
Recently the group was invited to play for clergy at a diocesan event. Along with two original compositions, the band’s set list included songs by popular rock acts from the 1980s and ’90s, with some Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan numbers thrown in the to keep the mix eclectic.
“People really appreciated it. Some sang along and danced. Concert proceeds have gone to charities, which primarily benefit the homeless,” said the Rev. Andrew “Drew” Bunting, 39, priest-in-charge of St. James Church, Milwaukee, until mid-June.
Bunting is the youngest member of the group. In addition to his administrative responsibilities, Bunting also writes original songs, sings most of the lyrics, and plays bass guitar.
In June Bunting accepted a call to be chaplain at St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School, a private Episcopal boarding school near the University of the South. The group had hoped to play a farewell concert in the summer before Bunting left, but their last public performance was in Madison on April 29.
The three band members remaining in Wisconsin hope to keep the band going and dream of a reunion with Bunting at General Convention next year.
“We really haven’t had a lot of time to think things through,” said the Rev. David Simmons, rector of St. Matthias Church, Waukesha, and drummer for Monstrance. “There may be other clergy in the diocese that can play. Being an all-clergy band has kind of been our shtick. We will have to reorganize and then rebuild our set list. We’ve enjoyed it an awful lot. It’s a great way to let off a little steam.”
The four are putting a lot of faith in their manager, the Rev. Seth A. Dietrich, rector of Christ Church, Whitefish Bay.
“A lot of people call me the Rowan Williams of band managers because Williams was always trying to interpret one side to the other side so they might see their essential unity,” Dietrich said. “I also think they have really thrived under my hands-off management style. Occasionally they have accused me of being too hands-off. Do I sometimes forget that they have a show? Yes. Do I sometimes forget that I am even their manager? Yes. But do I always carry them in my heart? Like heavy treasure.”