The Rev. Francis Stockton loves to sing and has been a devoted minister in the United Methodist Church for nearly three decades.
But on occasion he slips into a jumpsuit and clowns around as Elvis Presley.
“I’m not an Elvis impersonator,” Stockton explained. “That’s people paying tribute to him. I have a clown character based on Elvis. What I do is clowning.”
For the past 17 years, Stockton, who is pastor at Tonganoxie United Methodist Church, has figuratively put on his blue suede shoes and transformed into Elvis. He said he averages five or six gigs a year.
His Elvis clowning “career” started in Ottawa when he was a pastor there.
Preparations were under way for Ottawa’s annual citywide Christmas concert. At a committee meeting, someone mentioned they wished a vocalist would sing Presley’s “Blue Christmas.”
Stockton, who had played the guitar for years, said he could grant that wish.
It wasn’t going to be just Stockton singing an Elvis song. “I can sew you a jumpsuit,” a woman told Stockton.
Ottawa High School recently had performed “Jesus Christ Superstar,” in which one character dressed as Elvis. Stockton borrowed an Elvis wig used in the play for his “Blue Christmas” performance and had a three-piece band accompanying him.
Before Elvis left the building that night, Stockton said he had a handful of requests to perform at other functions.
On the circuit
Las Vegas might be the place for many Elvis impersonators, but Tonganoxie’s Elvis limits his performances to nursing centers and retirement communities.
Recently, he performed at Vintage Park, an assisted living community in Tonganoxie.
Equipped with his guitar, a computer and a speaker, Stockton cued songs as he played Elvis CDs on his computer.
“I’d shake my knees at you, but I’d have to go home and get them,” Stockton told his audience. “These are replacements.”
Stockton used to wear a white jumpsuit, complete with snowflakes.
When he moved to Osage City, a seamstress there made him an all-season navy blue jumpsuit accented with silver.
“I look even fatter in a white jumpsuit,” Stockton said.
Poking fun at himself throughout the Vintage Park performance, Stockton was working overtime on this occasion.
His wife, Donna, normally accompanies him and cues his songs. But because Donna was ill, Stockton ad-libbed as he sifted through CDs finding his next selection.
The minister didn’t miss a beat. He would turn to his left and ask for applause for his imaginary backup performers or crack yet another joke.
“It’s in my contract to say ‘thank you, thank you very much,’” Stockton said.
The gospel factor
Stockton admits that his favorite musicians are the Beatles.
“But I can’t sing like Paul McCartney,” he confessed.
Stockton, though, does share Presley’s love of gospel music.
After finishing an array of Elvis’ biggest hits, including “Return to Sender” and “Don’t Be Cruel,” Stockton performed “How Great Thou Art” and “Amazing Grace.”
Being in costume allows him to break loose with those songs, too.
“Francis Stockton sings the hymns pretty straight,” Stockton said. “Elvis, he feels them. A lot more emotion in the singing than Francis does. And that’s satisfying to me.
“I wouldn’t do it if I couldn’t carry the gospel. It’s just another way of bringing people together with Jesus.”
On a recent Sunday, Stockton told his congregation about his upcoming gig. Parishioner Sue Nible decided she wanted to see her pastor perform his jester version of the King of Rock.
“It was entertaining for folks,” Nible said. “He enjoys what he does.
“He’s just a colorful character. He is a very good minister. He’s a very good minister. He has a good sermon and he makes you think.”