Elvis-impersonating preacher doesn't want condemnation for act

Monday, January 6, 2003

NEWMARKET, Ontario -- In the Christ the King Graceland Independent Anglican Church of Canada, "Rockin' Reverend" Dorian Baxter presides with the sideburns and singing of Elvis Presley to attract the wayward to Jesus Christ.

Equal parts entertainer, activist and preacher, the 52-year-old Baxter -- who also goes by Elvis Priestley -- does it his way, singing Elvis favorites with a Christian twist.

"Well it's one for the Father, two for the Son, three for the Holy Spirit and your life has just begun," he starts to the tune of "Blue Suede Shoes," wrapping up the chorus with: "You can do anything but don't turn Jesus away."

His church is labeled independent because Anglican church elders frown on the Elvis-themed antics, and Baxter held Sunday's inaugural service with 200 supporters in a Newmarket veterans hall, on the northern fringe of the Toronto metropolitan area.

While not defrocked, Baxter was forced out of one Toronto-area church and denied a license to perform Anglican weddings, with Bishop Ronald Ferris of the Algoma diocese calling the mix of Elvis and church functions in poor taste.

Baxter sports a thick, curly mane of combed-over black hair with muttonchop sideburns, and while he conducts services in the robes and collar of a minister, he changes into a jumpsuit afterward to perform as a well-known Elvis impersonator.

Combining schtick, faith

In a broad British accent picked up during his early childhood in Kenya, Baxter explained how he combined his Elvis schtick with his Anglican faith at his first ministry in Thunder Bay, Ontario, on the north shore of Lake Superior, in 1984.

The music attracts people to the church and Christ, Baxter said, noting that Elvis himself traced the roots of rock music to gospel hymns.

"My message to the bishops is they should buy a couple of Elvis' gospel CDs and let's talk about this," he said. "They might as well get used to it. I'm not leaving."

Baxter offered a personal commandment to the Anglican bishops and others who condemn him: "Don't be cruel to a heart's that true."

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