Protesters outside St Joseph The Worker Church in Berkeley on Sunday October 30th

Members of the congregation at St Joseph The Worker Church in Berkeley who have been holding regular protests at the church since the early summer, have been told by the church’s pastor, Father John Direen, that they can no longer serve as ushers, lectors or eucharistic ministers.

The group, which is about 20-strong, is unhappy with the way Direen has been running the church since he took over more than two years ago. They say they need a pastor who will communicate with them and demonstrate a clear vision and leadership.

The group has been meeting weekly and sending letters to both Father Direen and the Bishop of Oakland, the Most Rev. Salvatore Cordileone, requesting meetings, and asking that the church community be more involved in setting the future direction of the church which is facing financial difficulties.

The last time Father Direen met with the disgruntled parishioners was in September, says Raul Ramirez, a spokesperson for the protesters, who has been part of the St Joseph congregation since he was a child and serves on the church’s finance council.

In the church bulletin of October 30th, Father Direen wrote that he would no longer tolerate protesters, who sometimes wear specially designed protest t-shirts, serving in the church. He stated:

“As many of you know, over the past five months a few people continue to protest in front of our church, particularly at the time of our Spanish and Eritrean Masses. I have met with them, the Bishop has met with them twice, and a large number of priests throughout the diocese have also heard from them, but so far to no avail. After having consulted the parish council and other parishioners, I have decided that it is confusing to the parish community to have people serve as ministers who are actively protesting the parish.  It is especially distracting and disrespectful to our worship when they serve as ushers, lectors or eucharistic ministers while wearing their protest tshirts. Therefore those who are protesting will not be allowed to serve as ministers or on any SJW committees until further notice. Please continue to be respectful toward the protesters and keep them and our parish in your prayers.”

As detailed on Berkeleyside earlier in the year, parishioners have objected to dismissals made by Father Direen. Ramirez acknowledges Direen has gifts, particularly in working with the infirm, but he says he does not pull people together. “We don’t think Father Direen is the right fit for our community,” he says. “The parish is the church. Our parents built this community and we don’t want a top-down approach now. We need transparency and to share knowledge.”

The majority of the St Joseph congregation is not involved in the protests, and, in the 70-odd comments left on Berkeleyside on our two previous stories regarding the unrest, several people expressed support for Father Direen. Reader “Lhasa7” wrote: “I feel a debt of gratitude to Father Direen for helping to redirect the parish’s energies to the spiritual needs of the local population.”

Calls to Father Direen had not been returned at the time of writing.

Berkeley pastor under fire hopes for calm after protests [07.05.11]
In Berkeley, a church congregation is dismayed [06.20.11]

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...