Christian clown makes an impression

October 08, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

SMITHSBURG - As a nurse and a Christian, Debbie Mooney can reach a lot of people.

If Mooney can't make an impression through those avenues, she puts on a bright blue wig, a round red nose and paints her face white.

Mooney has found that being a Christ clown she calls Rainbow allows her to touch lives in ways unavailable to her as a licensed practical nurse or coordinator of children/youth ministries or even as the wife of a United Methodist minister in Smithsburg.

"As a Christ clown, I don't speak," Mooney said. "If the story I'm 'telling' is a familiar one, no words are needed. But a narrator can be brought in if the story isn't so simple."


Mooney and other Christ clowns allow themselves to make sounds but cannot speak words, she explained. The pantomime allows Mooney to carry her symbols of faith and express faith even through the colors she wears.

"White represents purity, while red is Christ's blood and black represents our sin," Mooney said. "My signature color is blue since it is the color of sky - the first thing Noah saw after the ark landed at Mount Ararat."

Her clown name also is rooted in the Noah saga, as the rainbow represents God's promise to never again flood the earth.

A nurse for 28 years, Mooney is on staff at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in Baltimore. She's been clowning around there for about four years, but for purposes other than religious.

At the hospital, Mooney becomes Rainbow to brighten up the lives of patients and also to educate children on health-related subjects.

"When I do children's parties, I'm not so inherently Christian," Mooney said. "But Christ is always with me."

Clowning has been a part of her life for almost as many years as nursing.

"I actually started in high school in the clowning area," Mooney said. "It allows me to goof around and do things I wouldn't otherwise do."

While there are elements of pure fun, being a Christ clown is far removed from circus clowning, she said.

"I give out a message and sometimes my audience doesn't even realize it," Mooney said.

Mooney and her husband, Mark, live in Smithsburg, where he is pastor of St. Paul's United Methodist Church. She is coordinator of children/youth ministries at Christ United Methodist Church in nearby Chambersburg, Pa.

The couple met at a chaplaincy retreat in 1988 in Baltimore and married in 1990, she said. They came to Smithsburg in 1999, thus beginning her long commute to her job.

"The year we moved, I had just accepted the position as coordinator of outpatient services at Levindale," Mooney said. "I gave them my word and I wouldn't break it."

Mooney shops at yard sales and dollar stores for much of her clown costuming. The only exception is her wigs.

"I always buy my wigs new and the best I can afford," she said.

Although she often works alone, she sometimes incorporates the youth at Christ United Methodist in her Christ clown ministry.

"We held some clown classes in Smithsburg trying to recruit some new people," Mooney said. "We need to mesh with a clown partner in some instances."

Mooney gets much of her clown ministry from life experiences - her own and others. And sometimes she goes to the one book she says is her most valuable resource for stories.

"That would be the Holy Bible," Mooney said.

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