Southsider Voice correspondent
The first time that James D. Allen used his dummy in church was much more successful than he had hoped.
“I thought nobody would laugh at the jokes, that it was real stupid or corny or out of place in a church,” Allen recalled. But the dummy was well-received and still is, especially by children during the second sermon in church for which the youngsters attend.
“Maybe it’s me,” said Allen, pastor at Edgewood United Methodist Church. “Maybe I’ve relaxed. I have to make them laugh and be spiritual at the same time. My presentations are pretty short, five minutes.”
To Chester, the dummy, Allen’s voice is mainly like it always has been. The letter “P” is difficult to say without lip movement, but Allen is determined.
“I use him about 12 times a year,” Allen said. Although children and some adults are present, the jokes and timing must generally apply to both ages.
He has had some calls to churches other than Edgewood UMC, where Chester is a regular performer. Allen has been to Carmel and received a small payment for appearing with Chester, and he used the dummy in June 2007, when he married Libby, his second wife (his first wife passed away in 2002). The performance at Allen’s second wedding ended with Chester saying that Libby was the second dummy he had kissed that day.
“This was all rehearsed,” Allen said.
Allen had another dummy for a short time, but he and Chester developed out of a book that he got from Colorado with instructions that he practiced. He got the dummy from Sears.
At one time, Allen was pastor at a church in an Indiana town with only about 2,000 residents. Perry Township, where Edgewood UMC is, Allen pointed out, has more than 98,000 residents. He has lived in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan since starting with churches. He attended school at Ashbury in Kentucky.
Allen also provides a short article, about 350 words, with a picture of him and his dummy, for The Southside Times each week. He has done more than 40 essays for the paper. Sometimes he writes two at a time if the urge strikes, he said.
Although Allen, 62, stayed out of preaching for 17 years, he recently returned to Edgewood UMC, which has about 200 members, but Sunday attendance is only about 100.
Allen said he seldom uses material that hasn’t occurred to him first, although there are jokes posted everywhere.
“I’ve been doing it for a while, and the well hasn’t run dry yet. The safest way is to make fun of yourself.”
He did an extended joke when the UMC bishop of Indiana, Michael Coyner, appeared at Edgewood. It ended with the dummy saying to Allen, “They let you in.” Allen said he often thinks of an idea and follows it to its logical conclusion.
Most of the church’s members drive 5 to 8 miles to attend, said Allen, who almost drives that distance to reach the church.
He has found that being a pastor today means going out a lot. He recently did a funeral that required some driving. “Driving 5 miles in this culture doesn’t mean much,” he said.
“It happens a lot in this business. It’s impossible to have a regular schedule. You do what you have to do.”