New Brunswick

Elvis, anxiety, and exorcism: Ex-preacher still looking for apology after being cut out of church

Musician Mike Bravener hasn't stopped performing as Elvis Presley even though his act contributed to a rift — and an attempted exorcism — at the Fredericton church the former preacher co-founded.

Mike Bravener left Fredericton church after rift over his Elvis act that included exorcism incident

Mike Bravener holds up one of his prized Elvis-style jumpsuits. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Musician Mike Bravener hasn't stopped performing as Elvis Presley even though his act contributed to a rift — and an attempted exorcism — at the Fredericton church the former preacher co-founded.

Bravener said he's still waiting 15 years later for a proper apology from the church christened The Meeting Place.

Despite his success singing as "The King," Bravener said the Elvis act also helped sour his relationship with church leaders in the early 2000s.

The strained relationship, and his struggles with crippling anxiety, led to his departure from the Meeting Place, but not before church members persuaded him to undergo an exorcism.

Bitten by Elvis bug

Bravener began dabbling in Elvis impersonations after attending a tribute concert while on a family vacation in Ontario.

"I thought 'when I get back to Fredericton, I'm gonna be the King, baby'," Bravener told CBC in a mock Elvis voice, recounting his start in show business. He said a member of the church even bought him a jumpsuit and a karaoke machine to get him going.

Bravener, still a preacher at the time, started to compete as an Elvis impersonator in 2001 after a year of performing at Frank's Finer Diner in Fredericton. He told CBC that performing was a thrill and helped encourage people to join his church.

Bravener and his son Josh continued to perform as Elvis after he was forced to leave his job as a preacher at the Meeting Place Church in Fredericton. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

"For me, what Elvis was doing was not only helping me to meet people who didn't go to church, but it was opening up doors in that I would go to palliative care and I would sing to patients there."

Bravener said a small group of church members were displeased with his devotion to Elvis and felt he was funnelling too much of his passion into music instead of focusing on building the church.

To make matters worse, Bravener began to suffer from crippling anxiety in the fall of 2001. "I would wake up in a sweat, afraid, all day I would be afraid," he recalled. The Meeting Place took away his preaching role soon afterward, he said.

Agreed to exorcism

He said he was then told by the church leadership that he was suffering 'demonic oppression'. Desperate for relief from his anxiety, Bravener said he agreed to be the subject of an exorcism. He said the attempted demonic expulsion took place at church member Joe Crummey's home.

"'We renounce! We command you!'" Bravener said members yelled at him. "I didn't levitate and I didn't throw up," he added, "but I felt like I was going to throw up and I was scared to death, I was shaking." 

Music is a family passion. Bravener's son is the lead singer of the Fredericton-based band "The Hypochondriacs" and has written about the family's ordeal. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

The ordeal only exacerbated his anxiety and he said his mental health issues soon returned.

Bravener left the church in the spring of 2003. Since then, it has re-branded as Christ Central Church and has written him out of its history. Bravener said members still haven't made amends for the painful ordeal. 

"At the end of the day, there's no admission that anybody did anything wrong," he said.

Son's tribute

His son Josh said the church needs to apologize.

"The fact that there's been no sincere apology or nobody really coming forth to own up for the terrible thing they did, that just makes me even angrier," Josh, also a musician, told CBC.

The ex-preacher's son, now lead singer of Fredericton-based band 'The Hypochondriacs,' turned his father's story into a song. The Meeting Place recounts Bravener's tale and his son will often sing it within a stone's throw of Christ Central Church.

Josh wrote a song about his family's experience with the Meeting Place. He named it after the church and often performs it not far from its Fredericton location. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

"I kind of wanted my revenge in a way," said Josh, "and with music being the only thing I can do, that's all I have as my weapon."

Bravener's son said he tells the story onstage before singing it and has so far only encountered one member of the church in the crowd.

Even more, Josh Bravener said the song helped him better understand his father. Listening to Josh play the song in their living room, Mike Bravener wiped a tear from his eye.

No church comment

CBC News requested an interview with Christ Central Church. Mark Rushworth, the current lead pastor, declined the request and said the church didn't want to discuss the matter publicly.

"It's been addressed before," Rushworth said over the phone, though Bravener and his son both dispute the claim.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matthew Bingley is a CBC reporter based in Saint John.

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