The Rev. Tom Biatek says he doesn't preach fire and brimstone sermons. But he does enjoy eating fire.
"I don't fit the stereotype of a minister, and I'm very pleased about that," Biatek said. "I guess I'm just a non-traditional person in a very traditional role."Biatek, of the United Methodist Church of Clarence, learned how to be a fire-eater three years ago at the Pacific School of Religion seminary in Berkeley, Calif.
Fire-eating was part of a class offered that also included juggling and storytelling. The storytelling he finds useful in his sermons, particularly to children, but "I never got the hang of juggling."
Biatek, 26, minister at the Clarence church since graduating from the Theological Center seminary in San Anselmo, Calif., has yet to perform his specialty before his congregation of 193 people.
"I've done it for the youth group and the 4-H and for the Christmas carolers last Christmas, but I haven't done it in church. I guess I'm afraid that something would go wrong. If something did go wrong, that would kind of upset the worship service a bit," he said.
But with Pentecostal Sunday coming up May 14, Biatek may change his mind.
"I might do it then. It's the most appropriate day. It would be a good thing because that's when Jesus appeared to the disciples and put the tongues of fire over each of them," he said.
Along with fire-eating, Biatek learned how to do a "Dragon's Breath," which is exactly what it sounds like: breathing the fire in from a torch and spitting the flames back out.
"I love cheap magic tricks," he said, laughing. "People know me and they know I've got a good sense of humor. I like to laugh and I joke around in the worship service.
"This is one way of celebrating life and doing something unusual," he said. "No, I'm not a fire and brimstone preacher - that's too guilt-laden. I look at worship in church and what I preach and the Bible as celebrating life."
In college, Biatek said, he took one course per semester "that I could just have fun in." His transcripts include courses in astronomy, harmonica playing and white-water rafting.
"I want to parachute this year, but my wife is against it, although I think she's giving in," Biatek said. "My dream is to be on the Johnny Carson show or to meet David Letterman."
Biatek admits fire-eating is "just one of those odd things."
"But you know what? There were 12 others in my class at that seminary school who learned how to eat fire. So if they'll just come forward now."