Spotlight: Minister uses puppets to reach children, adults in his sermons
The Rev. Dr. Dean Frey has a menagerie of puppets — 217 in all. He uses both people puppets like this minister as well as animal puppets in the children’s sermons at Zion United Church of Christ in Lehighton and Emmanuel United Church of Christ in Bowmanstown, KRISTINE PORTER/TIMES NEWS
Darwin the monkey is the first puppet the Rev. Dr. Dean Frey got after he became a minister. He had it made by a seamstress. He uses it to talk about the story of creation, and says that science is important, too. The Bible says God created the world and everything in it in seven days, but those days weren’t 24 hours long. KRISTINE PORTER/TIMES NEWS
The snake puppet Anna Conda plays an important role in the Rev. Dr. Dean Frey’s talks, but she isn’t liked much by most of the women in the church.
A pig, parrot, alligator and a turtle are just a few of the many puppets the Rev. Dr. Dean Frey uses in his children’s sermons. He also allows the children to use the small puppets like these to make up their own stories.
For more than 51 years, the Rev. Dr. Dean Frey, who is technically retired, has used puppets in his ministry. Currently though, he is serving as the minister at Zion United Church of Christ in Lehighton and Emmanuel United Church of Christ in Bowmanstown, and the puppets come out every Sunday.
“Most people think the puppets are for the kids,” he said. “It’s not. It’s to pull the older people in.”
Frey uses the puppets during the children’s sermon, but knows the grown-ups are listening, too.
“The puppets tend to be outspoken,” he said. “It frees children up, as well as adults, to ask questions that they might be shy to ask under other circumstances in church. I think this is important.”
One of Frey’s puppets, Uncle Eph, is a gray-haired guy in overalls.
“Uncle Eph is sort of a rascal,” Frey said. He’s outspoken and says exactly what he wants to say.
Frey said the children ask Uncle Eph, “Did you get into trouble when you were little when you talked back?”
Eph admits that he has gotten himself into trouble sometimes. He tells the children, “Just remember that what you do will have consequences, so you have to make your choices,” Frey said.
The youngest members of the congregation tend to be a little perplexed by the puppets that look like people.
“In the beginning, (the little children) are slightly frightened of the people puppets, because it looks like a person and yet they know it’s not,” Frey said. “By and large, they love the puppets.”
Frey got his first puppet from his parents when he was 8 years old. Frey said he was a shy boy, but he liked watching “The Paul Winchell Show” on television with the puppet Jerry Mahoney.
“I think they must have thought it would draw me out,” he said.
That summer, Frey entertained other children at a vacation Bible school in Bowmanstown with a lesson about God.
By the time he was 13 years old, Frey said he felt a call to a life in ministry. The problem was he really wanted to be a veterinarian.
“Well, I fought it for a little while, because I wanted to be a vet, but I found out that doesn’t work. If you really believe, then you’re going to go the way God wants you to go,” he said.
Frey began filling in for pastors on Sunday mornings and Wednesday night prayer groups at the age of 14. The puppets came with him. Before long, he had ministered in almost every church in the area.
“Quite often, it would be a special service where it would be in Pennsylvania Dutch,” he said, which is all he spoke until he was 5 years old. “So I would use the Pennsylvania Dutch language for the puppet.”
Today, Frey has 217 puppets and has given some away, too. He said each of his puppets has their own story — a history, so to speak. When he sees one for sale, its features, its size, its style conjure up a story in his imagination.
“It will suggest a personality to you,” he said. “Each of the puppets has a story, and the personality of the puppet helps people deal with the things they are dealing with.”
For instance, Dillard is a dog. Uncle Eph found him abandoned in a Dillard’s Department Store parking lot. Dillard helps people who feel left out or rejected. Siegfried the Skunk helps people who feel different from others to know they can be accepted. And Maj. Steward Shipman, a puppet dressed in military clothing, helps veterans.
“I do a lot of work with veterans,” he said.
Frey also has some less welcomed puppets, but they play a role in the Bible stories and our faith. He has one that is a red guy with horns, and one that is an 8-foot-long snake named Anna Conda.
“The ladies in church, every church I’ve ever served at, hate that puppet. But of course, the snake is one of the pure symbols of deception,” he said, the whole Adam and Eve story.