We recently spoke with Jimmy Leach, former music director at St. Paul’s, Dayton. His experiences with rector Dan McClain confirm the numerous other accounts we have heard of McClain behaving badly and without regard for the welfare of others.
Leach was hired in 2019 by Father John Atkins, who went on medical leave in January 2020.
The parish had a series of supply priests until McClain was hired as a priest-in-charge beginning on Labor Day that year.
Initially, things went well, although Leach’s wife and daughter (who sang in the choir) had an immediate distrust of him.
Things went south in January 2021, when Leach took three weeks of vacation that he had not taken in 2020 due to the pandemic.
During his vacation in those first three weeks of January 2021, McClain emailed Leach with his ambitious ideas of adding music to the 8:30 services.
Leach responded by suggesting McClain ask the people at that service (the answer would have been “no.”)
Additionally, McClain proposed celebrating the feast of everything that came up on the calendar, plus Advent and Lent, which was an additional 50 services. This would have brought the annual number of services to over 150.
Under the contract proposed by McClain, Leach would be splitting the organ duties with another organist. The contract also stated that Leach would be playing funerals and weddings for no additional fee, which is unheard of. So triple the workload plus half of the organ duties for a slight salary increase from $23k to $30k.
Leach responded by reminding McClain that he was on vacation and that he had recently stated that staff should not be bothered on vacation.
Not to be dissuaded, McClain kept pushing Leach to sign the contract, which was a no-go to any sane person.
To work as a team player and to resolve things positively, Leach forwarded the contract to the senior and junior wardens. Both said they sympathized and praised Leach’s work with increasing the size and quality of the choir but said they were helpless as “Dan was the boss.”
Right there, we have a problem. Under church canons, authority over a parish’s temporal affairs authority rests with the vestry, not the rector. Yes, the two should work collaboratively, but the fact that the wardens don’t understand their roles indicates a parish with serious governance issues.
When he learned Leach discussed the matter with the wardens, McClain was upset and surprised. Again, this is a serious issue, as it’s not McClain’s place to intrude on the authority of the vestry.
Leach came in early from vacation to meet with McClain and senior warden Paul Samson. Eventually, Leach walked out of what multiple sources have described as a “weird,” “Kafkaesque” conversation.
An hour later, McClain sent Leach an email, firing him. That begs the question: what kind of incompetent jackrabbit fires people by email? And how does that comport with even basic notions of Christian community and love?
At that point, Leach called Aimee Hill, previously the parish’s education/media person and a novitiate for the priesthood. Hill reportedly had resigned for health reasons caused by McClain’s treatment of her, which involved bullying and gaslighting. (The latter is a form of abuse and often indicative of a sociopathic personality disorder.) While specifics of the conversation are confidential, it appears her experiences closely aligned with what Leach experienced in his dealings with McClain.
Subsequently, Leach ran into a yoga teacher who had rented an unused, shabby space at St. Paul’s for her business. She renovated it at her own expense and had been there for a few years, but she recounted that McClain wanted the room, so he just kicked her out.
Over time, Leach encountered numerous casualties who left the parish because of McClain.
As word got out that Leach was gone, the phone lines lit up for a few days, with all the folks who loved the new vitality of the music asking what was happening.
In response to these queries, the senior warden finally sent a letter to the parish saying that Leach was insubordinate and had to be let go. This is nothing if not shocking — what kind of moron discusses HR matters in a letter to the parish?
The tone-deaf nature of the message (from an air force pilot and general) caused many people to quit the church immediately.
Subsequently, Leach spoke with an organist at one of McClain’s previous assignments. When asked about McClain, there was a long silence before she said that they wondered how he got hired, adding, “Why didn’t anyone from St. Paul’s call to speak to his supervisor?”
She then stated that while McClain was a priest on staff, he had more guard rails to keep his worst instincts from doing much damage, but they would have possibly suggested caution in hiring him.
So where are things today at St. Paul’s? Leach’s assessment mirrors ours: anyone with leadership skills, or who might question McClain, has left the parish. Those who remain are primarily sycophants, empaths, and enablers, unwilling to speak up or challenge McClain over his inappropriate conduct.
In this, we recall one wag on the late Episcopal Cafe, who sarcastically said, “Sure, I’m all for the coming Kingdom of God. I just don’t want any change or conflict when it happens.”
Asked about the recent reception at St. Paul’s, Leach described watching the service on Facebook as “so bizarre as they seemed to say to the bishop, ‘Well, we’re still going to have this service and the reception with you or without you.’ ”
Our take on it is this: we believe McClain is a master manipulator, a narcissist, and possibly a psychopath. Of course, we’re not mental health professionals and have not dealt directly with McClain. But the myriad descriptions of McClain as “oily,” and “ingratiating,” juxtaposed with behavior described as “toxic,” and “threatening,” suggest a very troubled priest and parish.
Finally, we say this: if parishioners want to save the church, now is the time to step back, take a critical look at McClain and his conduct, and speak out. Otherwise, we can confidently predict the parish will close within the next several years.
In closing, we add our usual reminder to the inevitable attorneys: These are all allegations. But we find Leach and our other sources credible and believe them. And to McClain’s swarms of flying monkeys, don’t bother. If you have something meaningful to add to the conversation, you are welcome. But if you’re going to offer empty, conclusory statements, opinions, and ad hominem attacks, you’ll be blocked. Simple as that.