Puppet Ministry Message Full of Joy
Youth and adults work together to bring a joyful message to the worshipers at Faith United Methodist Church.
The stage was set, literally.
A puppet stage sat on the front right of the chancel of Faith United Methodist Church. I have served in churches with puppet stages in Sunday school rooms and recognized the two-tiered frames draped with curtains.
There are clergy who use a single character puppet in their ministry to children, especially in the children’s sermon, many churches offer during their worship service. I’d not seen an active puppet ministry in a church setting, and I was curious.
The puppet ministry at Faith United Methodist Church (UMC) is called Joy Express and is led by Cheryl Purcell, director of worship arts. Purcell and her troupe of puppeteers provided the offertory during the three worship services Jan. 23.
I attended the 11 a.m. worship service, and I did not know what to expect when the offertory time came.
The music started and four neon-colored puppets popped up from behind the stage and performed “God Loves Everyday People.”
There was great energy as the puppets moved and lip-synced to the prerecorded song. I learned later from Purcell that they are “funzles,” or as Purcell describes them “glorified sock puppets with feathers.” Props appeared on cue. The props were posters of men, women and youth of various ages and ethnic groups highlighting certain verses of the song. The funzles kept singing and dancing around the props.
I realized that I was smiling as I was putting money in the offering plate.
Can I hear an "Amen"? Who smiles when they put money into the offering plate?
Yes, there is an often quoted Bible phrase from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 9, that reads,“ . . .for God loves a cheerful giver.”
But really, how often are we cheerful when we do actually give?
I was cheerful and charmed by Joy Express and asked Purcell if I could attend a rehearsal. She and her puppeteers practice for an hour Sunday evenings after the Faith UMC youth group meeting.
Currently, there are four people in Joy Express, two youths and two adults. Kevin Grabbe, a sophomore at Francis Howell High School, has been in the troupe for five years. Grabbe told me that there is a “feeling of satisfaction” in being part of this ministry. He always wonders, “What’s next?”
Purcell said she added puppets to the youth choir presentations five years ago. Joy Express puppet ministry is the outgrowth of that.
The big “what’s next” for Joy Express is a musical titled “Israel Icon.” Think the story of David in the Bible--shepherd boy to King of Israel--meets American Idol Purcell said. Personally, I can’t wait, and I will be checking back with Faith UMC for the date of that presentation. Purcell is planning for a Sunday in May 2011.
Joy Express rehearsed “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus.” It is a traditional hymn, words and music written by Robert Lowry in 1876. For the presentation, however, Purcell will give the three human-looking puppets dreadlocks and dress them in island-themed shirts. The bird puppet is a colorful toucan and it needs no alterations. The hymn is played and sung in reggae style.
During the practice, I swayed and tapped my feet to the Caribbean beat. I heard the words of the song in a fresh way, which led me to think about them and what meaning they have for me again. I have a stuffed toucan to thank and its capable handler, Marlene Cockrell, an eighth grader at Holman Middle School.
I’m still humming the tune and repeating the refrain, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” I’ve gained respect for the way in which this ministry allowed me to think again about the concepts of sin and redemption as written in words of a hymn from 1876. I think that these challenging understandings of faith would be more accessible to children presented in such a way as well.
If the children get it, that means I as an adult can, too. I appreciate any method or manner of faith message that opens my mind and heart to hearing a familiar idea in a new way or simply allowing me to consider a new angle I never have before.
There is room for joy in the church. There is room to add color and energy and new rhythms to old ways of being in the church.
Joy Express will be in worship at Faith UMC during all three services on Feb. 20.
Perhaps this is something you might want to consider for your church, its Sunday school or midweek programming. It will put a smile on your face, and that joy, joy, joy, joy, down in your heart.