One of the few memories this writer has of being eight years old is being dressed as a clown, sitting on the curb with my siblings watching the local Rose Parade in Santa Rosa, California. Why our parents decided to deck us out with clown makeup and wigs that year is a mystery. But I remember having a strange sensation: My normal, shy self was attracting attention. People were smiling and talking to me. Totally absorbed in the parade, I momentarily forget about being dressed up, and was surprised by the attention.
This ability of silent clowns to draw people out and bring them humor, levity, and even joy, is at the heart of a new book written by Bud Frimoth, a resident of the Reed neighborhood since 1993, a former national radio personality, and an ordained Presbyterian minister. 'Bring in the Clowns - a Metaphor for Ministry' describes the life and art of a 'caring clown'.
Bud and his wife of 55 years, Lenore, have used clowning for over three decades in hospitals and schools, at church services, and in numerous everyday life situations to bring cheer, solace, and deeper meaning into peoples' lives. Active in their community, they have also appeared numerous years in the Woodstock Festival parade, bringing with them several newly-trained clowns from the Chinese Presbyterian Church.
Bud began as a conventional pastor. Over the years, he developed creative ways of reaching out to people in what he describes as 'a supplemental ministry of mirth and wholeness.' Clowning was one of those creative paths in his ministry.
Another creative path was radio. Simultaneously while learning clowning, and after much soul-searching, Bud left his role as pastor in a church in 1980 and went full-time into radio, coordinating a program for youth called the 'Open Door'. Broadcast around the world, 'Open Door' addressed the needs of youth to explore spirituality and to find healing from abuse of various kinds.
Not surprisingly, the program had similarities with clowning; 'Its message was gentle and encouraging, using the writings of the listeners interpreted by the youth themselves,' says Bud. 'I was the 'midwife' for their ideas.' The program won over forty national and international awards, including the prestigious Peabody Award, the highest award given in broadcasting.
While involved in radio and other professions over the years, Bud and Lenore continued to learn and practice 'caring clowning'. In 2006 Bud finished writing 'Bring In the Clowns'. His book provides clergy and lay persons with ideas, insights and practical suggestions of how to gently bring clowning and innovation into the life of a church, hospital and community.
'This is not a book about how to become a clown,' says Bud. 'There are many excellent books describing that process. I use clowning as a metaphor to encourage lay and clergy alike to be open to the gift of God's spirit of creativity and imagination in and through them.' The book is sprinkled with anecdotes about how clowning can create life-changing experiences or offer temporary solace and renewed perspective.
Using clowning as a therapeutic listening skill, and risking to use imagination and innovation in everyday life, are key to Bud's philosophy. For example, he proposes that we learn true sensitivity - whether as ministers, clowns or politicians - when we learn to ask the question, 'Who is the audience and who is on stage?' and when we realize that 'WE are the audience.'
Self-published, 'Bring In the Clowns' is available online from Barnes and Noble, or by calling, toll-free, 1-877-421-READ. Proceeds from the book will go to the Martha Frimoth Memorial Scholarship Fund at Whitworth College, Spokane, Washington, in memory of their daughter, who died of cancer in 1959 at age four.
Special note: While writing this article, the writer learned that Lenore Frimoth, Bud's life partner, died suddenly of a stroke at age 79 on November 26th. Her obituary follows.
Lenore Ruth Beck Frimoth, a thirteen-year resident of the Reed neighborhood, died of a stroke on November 26th at age 79. Born on November 4, 1927, in Superior, Wisconsin, she graduated from Oklahoma City University and received a master's degree from San Francisco Theological Seminary. She married the Rev. Elmer R. 'Bud' Frimoth in 1951. She moved to Portland in 1963, and was a sponsorship developer for SOAR (Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees) from 1979 to 1992. She also appeared worldwide as Wrinkles the Clown, and was a volunteer therapeutic clown at Providence Medical Center for ten years. Survivors include her husband Bud, daughter Margaret R., sons Christen B. and Todd R. and four grandchildren. Her daughter Martha died in 1959. Lenore's funeral was held Friday December first at Westminster Presbyterian Church. Remembrances are directed to the Martha Estelle Frimoth Memorial Fund at Whitworth College, Spokane, Washington, or to Westminster Presbyterian Church.