Rev. Donald R. Brewer, 1938-2013: Lutheran minister traveled with circus


The Rev. Donald R. Brewer, 74, a former pastor of Augsburg Lutheran Church whose boyhood interest in sleight of hand and the Big Top led to a circus ministry, died in Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center on Saturday, 10 days after he had a stroke.

He retired from Augsburg in 2003, but continued to serve as an interim and substitute pastor at parishes of the Northwestern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

“He said he was called to preach the Gospel, and he was never called away from it,” his wife, Melody, said.

He was installed as senior pastor of Augsburg in 1987. “He stayed because he felt at home,” his wife said. “He said that everything he had ever done in his ministry was in preparation for coming to Augsburg.”

Pastor Brewer, who lived in the Old West End, was a skilled conciliator and convener, able to defuse problems; good at inviting people together to talk things out.

He had been chairman of the synod’s Ecumenical Commission and was among a group of Lutherans and Roman Catholics that drafted a covenant of trust and cooperation, which was signed in 2001 by the late Rev. James Hoffman, bishop of the Catholic diocese of Toledo, and Lutheran Bishop Marcus Lohrmann. Pastor Brewer also was on the board of the Ohio Council of Churches.

“He had a sense of care and love for the whole of the Church,” Bishop Lohrmann of the Northwestern Ohio Synod said. “He genuinely loved being a pastor.”

He earlier served parishes in Preble County and in Kettering, Ohio.

As a boy, when the circus came to town, he awoke at dawn to help workers unload and set up. The gift of a magic kit from his paternal grandfather, also a Lutheran pastor, started him on the path to performance. For nearly a decade early in his ministry, he and his wife and their daughters spent summers with small circuses. He could juggle fire on a high bar and spin plates and make his daughters disappear. For the 10th anniversary of his ordination, he took a sabbatical, and the Brewers spent a full season in circus life. He counseled his circus colleagues, many of whom felt left behind by the church and society.

“It was glorious fun and I thoroughly enjoyed the circus ministry,” Pastor Brewer told The Blade in 1988.

He carved carousel animals, mostly in miniature, and spent a week each summer at a carousel museum in New York. He was a former president of the Black Swamp Woodcarvers and had been entertainment chairman of the Old West End Festival and on the Mansion View Inn’s board.

He was born Sept. 13, 1938, in Tarentum, Pa., to Alice and Clifford Brewer. He graduated from high school in Decatur, Ind.

He was a graduate of Wittenberg University and Hamma Divinity School, from which he received a master’s degree. He received a master’s in sacred theology from United Theological Seminary in Dayton. He was ordained in 1963.

Surviving are his wife, Melody, whom he married Jan. 20, 1962; daughters, Dawn Ying, Cherie Brewer-Coon, and Micheline Brewer; sister, Judy Hoff, and six grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 5-8 p.m. Monday in the Walker Funeral Home. Memorial services will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday in Glenwood Lutheran Church.

The family suggests tributes to Glenwood Lutheran Church; One Appeal at the Northwestern Ohio Synod, Findlay, or the Cherry Street Mission.