Episcopal priests rock the house with a religious message

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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 angel wears a "maniple," goes the chorus.

"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.

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.

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?"