Puppets give youth a voice in ministry

October 05, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

BOONSBORO - Delivering a Christian message via puppets can be freeing while adding a new dimension to familiar Bible stories and real-life experiences faced by today's youth.

And that's exactly why Joy Zepp brought her set of four puppets to Manor Church of the Brethren last November when she became pastor of the 175-year-old church off Sharpsburg Pike.

"We are just getting started with our puppet ministry here," Zepp said. The small group of young people is led by Zepp's daughter, Amy, an experienced Christian puppeteer.


One of the group's first puppet performances was at the church's recent anniversary celebration, when the youth and the puppets were formally introduced to the congregation.

The soft-body, multiethnic hand puppets have a wardrobe of 2T and 3T children's clothes and a familiar "big mouth" look with which young and old can identify.

"I can do things with puppets that I can't say myself as a pastor," Zepp said, noting that she writes the scripts for the puppet ministry at Manor Church. "It's a wonderful outreach."

Along with the puppet ministry, the young people who are involved participate in a Christian clown ministry, in which they dress up but are mute, conveying their messages through pantomime.

In a recent performance, Seth Bowman dressed as a clown, attended a Manor Church service and acted out a scenario of using all his money to buy flowers while saving only a dime for the church. After buying the flowers, the clown begins to feel guilty and returns the flowers, giving that money to the church, Zepp said.

"Children from fifth grade through young adult are welcome," Zepp said.

So far, four have gone through the training and another three are just coming in.

The clown ministry has been going to nursing homes, senior centers and the homes of shut-ins, but the puppet ministry still is in its infancy.

"There's a lot to learn. The puppets are heavy and must be held up above the puppeteer's head while the script is read," Zepp said.

A desire to get involved in puppet ministry prompted Sarah Cook to make inquiries.

"I was first a clown in puppet camp this past summer and that was OK, but the makeup is hard to get off," she said.

A student at Springfield Middle School, Sarah, 11, was looking forward to the first performance at the church anniversary celebration.

"I'm really getting into it now," she said before she and the others took the stage.

Another Manor Church puppeteer, Brooke Krocker, 12, said the hardest thing for her to remember is that the puppet's mouth is wide open unless the puppeteer keeps it closed.

"It's complicated getting the puppets' movements to match the words, but I like it," said Brooke, a student at E. Russell Hicks Middle School. "It just takes practice."

One of the younger puppeteers is Cassandra Golden, 10, a student at Boonsboro Middle School.

"I got involved because I like to make up stories," Cassandra said.

After the first practice, Cassandra said she was more excited than ever to be involved in the puppet ministry at Manor Church.

The puppet family at Manor Church was given to Zepp when she left her previous congregation at Glade Valley Church of the Brethren in Walkersville, Md.

"They surprised me with this gift, writing a script about dandelions traveling on the wind," Zepp said. "Their hope was that I would start a new puppet ministry here at Manor Church, and I did."

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