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CLOWN MINISTRY: WHERE TO BEGIN
By Janet “Jellybean” Tucker – Former Three-Time WCA Clown Ministry Director
Several years ago when I was Clown Ministry Director for WCA, I received many letters – and now that I again have this office, I am beginning already to get inquiries, the main one being “How do I get started in Clown Ministry?”
Interestingly, I was a clown (“secular”, if you prefer that kind of term versus “ministry”) doing birthday parties, company picnics, grand openings, etc. and then I got a taste of clowning used in the ministry and began to create all kinds of ideas for using my clown in that way. It was in 1979 or 1980 at a Clown, Mime, Puppet, Dance Ministry Workshop in Oberlin, Ohio, and I saw Floyd Shaffer do a bit on feeding the hungry where his clown ate gobs of popcorn but offered it to a hungry person one kernel at a time.
I began reading the Bible through different eyes and began to see the Bible characters as real people. I put together several skits contemporizing the parables of Jesus and several of us did our first clown ministry during the Mother/Daughter Banquet season in April and May.
Since that time, Floyd Shaffer has published a number of books, I have written several books of clown ministry skits, and I’ve developed some ideas along the way that are very important. Not everyone doing clown ministry has these same ideas but I have found them to work for me (and all I can share is what I do!) First, I would suggest that anyone interested in using their clown character in a gospel clowning way should pray for the proper direction to go. You might work with your own church in a Sunday School or Children’s Church program. You might work for a community organization such as the Salvation Army. You might work for a Vacation Bible School. You might have a part in a worship service or even do the whole worship service as a special clown event. You might get a group of clowns together to visit hospitals and nursing homes in your area. All of these are valid areas of ministry but not all of these are for all clowns. Pray about where you might fit into your church’s programs.
Second, as you prepare your gospel clowning programs, make sure that you are giving your best to the Lord. Be the very best clown you can be. Learn proper clown makeup, costuming, skills and make sure that you are theologically sound in your scriptural passages. I once saw a tramp clown come forward and cook a hot dog on the altar candles – many , including me, thought it was offensive and saw no lesson for either clowning or ministry. I would recommend books by Randy Christensen and Ralph Dewey as well as my “Creating Clown Stuff” book because they give a Bible chapter and verse reference for the skit or idea.
Next, as you perform your ministry bit, whether it be animal balloons with a gospel message, a skit for a worship service, or a visit to a shut-in, make sure the message gets across. I have seen many clowns who say they must be silent because clown ministry must be silent. I don’t agree with this although I have done some silent clown bits. I think it is important to get the message across – whatever it takes – and sometimes that can be silent, but sometimes it can be noisy. Sometimes it must be very visual with lots of slapstick clowning. Sometimes it can be a very gentle type of clowning. Clowning for young children may need to be explained with words to be sure the message is properly received.
Just as you have to be sure the “ministry” message gets across, you must also be sure the “clown” message gets across. If what you do could as easily be done by simply telling a story, then do it as a storyteller . If you are doing “clown” ministry, be sure to include some clowning such as funny or oversize props, clown actions such as slapstick movements, or clown thinking that often misinterprets an idea.
Now, if the question “How do I get started?” means how do I become a good clown, how do I know what type of ministry to do, how do I plan programs, how do I prepare the “ministry” and the “clown” parts of a program, then we’ve answered it.
However, if the question means “How do I get booked in my church or other churches?” then we need to look at opportunities for clown ministry. Volunteer to help with a Sunday School program or VBS at your church. Ask your Pastor if you can help with a children’s portion of a worship service. Offer to entertain at the Mother/Daughter Banquet. If you have properly prepared your program and can get it seen in your church at a fellowship dinner, the chances are good that you will be asked to consider doing the program at other churches also. Decide if you want to do a program for free, or a “love offering”, or a particular price that meets your expenses. Print informational flyers and send them to churches in your area when you have several programs to offer -but PLEASE make sure your programs are of the high quality necessary before you jump into this stage.
The question could also mean “How do I get a clown group started in my church?” If you have any clown instruction classes in your area, get your group to take the class. If not, consider bringing in a clown teacher to your church for a weekend to work with the group you have assembled. If it is a youth group, consider visiting a hospital or nursing home on a regular basis and do a clown program for them. Older teens might also clown for a VBS or Sunday School program.
As in all things, you have to start someplace! Get a book, take a class, attend Clown Camp or a clown convention – then use what you know and build on it. The following have books on clown ministry that might help you – or visit your local library – or borrow old copies of “Clowning Around” from a friend and check out the clown ministry columns. Write to any of the following for books and further information:
The Cross and the Clown magazine, P. O. Box 8, Madison, GA 30650 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Randy Christensen, 5265 Lawler Beach Rd. NE, Willmar, MN 56201 – email@example.com
Janet Tucker, 6334 New Hampshire, Hammond, In 46323 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out the Fellowship of Christian Magicians Annual Conference in Marion, Indiana at www.fcm.org
Janet “Jelly Bean” Tucker