Timothy Armbruster is a man of many names and faces. He’s Muwese the clown; a court jester; the Red Power Ranger; and, of course, Father Timothy, associate pastor at St. James Parish in Liberty.
The Catholic priest, who grew up on a farm in WaKeeney, Kan., was ordained seven years ago to the priesthood. However, he remembers clearly his protest when at the age of 12 his parish priest not-so-seriously asked him when he was going to go to the seminary.
“I thought no way, not me, no way,” Armbruster said.
He agreed more readily to the clown persona a few years later. As a high school junior he impatiently attended a parish carnival planning meeting with his mother and quickly agreed when his mother volunteered him to help. In the car he asked, “Mom what did you just volunteer me for?” When she told him he was going to be a clown, his response was a disappointed, “Oh, great.”
Later as a student at Fort Hays College in Hays, Kan., he joined a student clown ministry where he learned that clowning isn’t just fun and antics — there is a true ministry about reaching out to others. And there is a theology behind the clown’s makeup. It’s a lesson he’s taught many times to classes of youth and adults.
“I talk about how through the church and the sacrament of baptism we become a new creation of Christ. And I relate that back to as a person becomes a clown, as the makeup is put on, as a person thinks about what kind of a clown he might become, what kind of a costume, what kind of makeup, what kind of acts am I going to do? All that creation is carefully thought out and put together.
“The white is the color of death, and the colors are the colors of resurrection. So as you put on the white everything that you are, basically, in one sense dies; and as you put on the colors you come alive again,” explained Armbruster.
There is a similarity between clowns and priests, he notes. Both find the good in others and see God in the face of a stranger. Both challenge others to stop and think about what is going on in their lives and in the world around us.
And clowns bring smiles to faces. “It’s fulfilling in different ways than what you’d expect. It’s a way of touching people’s hearts,” he said.
His hero is the legendary performer Red Skelton, who “truly did the clown technique of bringing to people’s awareness things that they do in their mundane life that they may never ordinarily realize,” said Armbruster.
Armbruster is a “treasure,” says Daryl Johnson, office manager at St. James.
“He is dynamic, high energy and extremely giving. One thing I really like about him when he’s a clown he brings people out of their shell. I see him bring smiles to the elderly people the quiet groups.”
The priest-clown admits that the clowning brings him out of his own shell and gives parish members the opportunity to see his human side.
He did some clowning while teaching the story of the lost sheep to a parish confirmation class this fall and also performed at a recent parish Mardi Gras. Afterward, kids came up to him in clown costume and said “I know who you are, you’re that Father dude.”
“If the kid remembers it and has a better appreciation of me and makes a connection with the priesthood of who I am, it’s like maybe I planted a seed there. Who knows, but if it
meant something to him, it was worth it,” said Armbruster.
His clown alter egos to this point are Muwese and Timotheus. He’s also done some stints as a jack-o-lantern, a Red Power Ranger and held still for a whip cream pie in the face at a child’s request.
He’s also learned to take things as they come even if that’s not how you planned it: “It’s been a real challenge to me. Just be prepared, let go, have fun and whatever happens, happens. If it doesn’t happen as planned, so be it; somebody had a better plan.”