HAMLIN — According to advertisements, Doug Brummel was due to appear at 6:47 p.m. sharp on March 13. When that moment arrived, the audience filling St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church was dutifully seated — yet there was no sign of the featured performer.
During this lull, a late-arriving, purple-clad woman surfaced in the church aisle, wondering what she had just stumbled into. Identifying herself as Estelle, she asked various people if they were Catholic, including one man whom she guessed was a good Catholic “because he’s sitting in the back.” That remark sparked a roar of laughter that was to repeat itself many times throughout the evening.
Then Estelle asked if there was a priest in the audience but remarked, “Oh, it’s a weeknight, and they only work on Sunday.” She did manage to locate St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s pastor, Father William Spilly, “sitting in the back with the good Catholics.”
Estelle proceeded to drag people out of their seats and bring them up front, warning one person as they ascended some steps, “Watch your step, we don’t want to lighten up Father’s finances with a lawsuit.” She chatted with a couple that has been married 51 years, then requested a show of hands while asking, “How many people have tried matrimony?” then, “How many have had much luck with it?” Estelle also was under the impression that the initials for Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults — RCIA — actually stood for Rich Catholics in America.
Of course, Estelle was actually Brummel, providing a zany beginning to the first of his two-night “Lighten Up!” program at Seton. The performances were attended primarily by parishioners of Monroe County’s Northwest Planning Group.
Brummel also will bring his act to the Southern Tier this Friday, March 30, when he appears at Ithaca’s Immaculate Conception Church. He’ll be back once more in the Rochester Diocese April 23-24 at St. Matthew Church in Livonia, Livingston County. All his appearances will begin at — you guessed it — 6:47 p.m. sharp.
Brummel builds several memorable characters into his repertoire. For instance, on March 13 he quickly transformed himself from Estelle into Andrew, a long-haired young man who has been in college for nine years. Andrew noted that he has a deep respect for all mothers, and asked the audience members how many of them had mothers. “Wow, half!” he exclaimed as many, but not all, hands went up.
Turning serious, Brummel used that moment to punch home the importance of raising children in their faith, saying that from our parents “we’re going to learn more about living out our faith than we will from any church program.”
More messages followed about the value of faith and family. His next character, Hoover, is a recent retiree who now serves as caretaker at Our Lady of Perpetual Motion Parish; he was volunteered by his wife whom he was driving crazy. How does Hoover respond when people ask him why he is Catholic? He slowly recited the Profession of Faith and then invited audience members to shut their eyes and reflect on their own Catholic identity.
At that point, Brummel stepped out of character to share details about himself. He is the youngest of seven children and said his upbringing heavily influenced him toward his current ministry, noting that his home was always filled with laughter. He encouraged parents in the audience to provide the same for their kids.
“The gift of your laughter, the gift of your joy — your children are craving it,” he stated.
Brummel’s final — and most melancholy — portrayal of the evening was of Joe, an elderly widower, who recounted how a group of teenagers had visited him and brought homemade cookies. He had shared with them the pain of having lost his 12-year-old daughter in an accident many years earlier, and how his faith had helped him through that dark period. He told the audience how happy he was for the visit, creating a bond that transcended their differences in age. The message? Get in touch soon with someone who may need cheering up: “You never know how your mere presence could be the best present somebody has received in a long time.”
Back out of character, Brummel sat at a keyboard and led the congregation in a closing medley of such well-known songs as “Were You There?” “Prayer of St. Francis” and “America the Beautiful.” Finally, he led the gathering in the Lord’s Prayer.
Brummel, 43, resides in Colorado Springs, Co. He and his wife, Jennifer, have five children. He has operated his family-centered ministry since 1991, appearing at hundreds of churches, conferences and retreats all over the country.
Brummel has made numerous trips to the Rochester Diocese. He noted to the Courier that he has grown close with Michael Theisen, former diocesan director of youth ministry, as well as Bishop Matthew H. Clark. In fact, Brummel said that in 2004 he was brought in for a surprise appearance on the occasion of the bishop’s 25th anniversary in Rochester.
“I’ve always felt very welcome in this diocese,” Brummel said, adding that despite the diversity of area churches he has visited they have “a common sense of welcoming. They truly know how to make someone feel welcome.”
Brummel to appear at Ithaca and Livonia parishes
Doug Brummel will bring his “cast of characters” to Ithaca for an appearance on Friday, March 30, at Immaculate Conception Church, 113 N. Geneva St., beginning at 6:47 p.m. The event is open to the public. There is no admission charge, but free-will offerings will be accepted. For details, call 607/273-6121.
Brummel also will appear April 23-24 at St. Matthew Church, 6591 Richmond Hill Road, Livonia. Those presentations also will begin at 6:47 p.m. Call 585/346-3815 for details.