What began as an elementary school passion has morphed into a ministry for Rev. Bryan Diffee, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Monticello.
“I first became interested in puppetry and ventriloquism at the age of 8 when I would watch Edgar Bergen, Willie Tyler, and Jay Johnson doing ventriloquial routines on television. My parents purchased me a Charlie McCarthy ventriloquist doll from the Sears catalog and I have been hooked ever since,” Diffee said.
From age 8 until high school, Diffee did ventriloquism but put the hobby aside during high school and college. It was after he attended the annual Vent Haven International Ventriloquist’s Convention in Kentucky in 2017 that he became passionate about the art form. According to Diffee, that conference helped him grow in both confidence and performance skills.
Now, Diffee considers ventriloquism a ministry at the church he serves. “As a United Methodist pastor who moves around, ventriloquism has given me a different kind of connection than I would normally have with a community or a particular congregation,” Diffee said. “Ventriloquism has allowed me to connect with people in nursing homes, preschools, libraries, and community events in a way I would not be able to in just my traditional clergy role. I see it as an extension of my pastoral ministry.”
Diffee primarily uses two puppets in church: Eugene, an older man that enjoys life and is most often dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, yellow shorts, and his signature duck slippers. The second most used puppet, and the favorite of all the children, is Ferd the Bird. “He made his first appearance at Vacation Bible School last summer, and now all the children want to know when he is going to fly to church again.”
Brenda Wright, Children’s Minister at FUMC Monticello, says Diffee’s puppets offer a different kind of connection with the church. “The children clearly are invested in this ministry by their keen interest and attentiveness,” she said. “They seem to hold onto every word Bro. Bryan and his puppets say. Parents have shared with us that the children love to talk about what the puppets say to them.”
Although the puppets are primarily for the children, Wright says the puppet ministry brings joy to the children and to the adults. “Joy and laughter bring such hope!”
Diffee agrees. “All adults are just children at heart and laughter is great medicine for the ailments and stressors of life. Proverbs 17:22 says, ‘A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.’ I love the way that God has used this simple art form to connect with, and bring smiles to children, youth, and adults.”