Clowning for Christ

Troupe spreads God's word one hug or smile at a time

Troupe spreads God's word one hug or smile at a time

September 07, 2008|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

Once the white pancake make-up has been carefully applied to the faces of the Real Life Community Church Clowns, all talking ceases.

Not a hello.

Not a whistle.

Not a peep.

Talking, members say, isn't needed. That's because, they say, you have to listen to pay attention to God's message.

Linda Havens, of Hagerstown, started the troupe at her church earlier this year after attending a retreat last fall for Credo's Women's Ministries in Hanover, Pa.

Part of the retreat included a special ceremony with clowns. During one of those skits, Havens was cast as the Cleaning Clown.


"It was my job to puff their faces and straighten up their hair," she says with a laugh.

Each clown has a special duty, Havens says, from Sad Clown and Happy Clown, a persona he or she portrays during pantomimed skits.

Havens was so inspired that clowns could move others that she wanted to bring a similar troupe to her church to use it as part of their outreach.

Service with a smile

With their faces white with pancake make-up and outfitted in clothes she pieced together from second-hand shops, Havens and her troupe of four adults have been out in the community spreading their ministry - without a word. And most importantly, do it with a simple act of kindness.

A "pray and wash" on Aug. 23 was one example, Havens says, of just being nice. The wash itself was sponsored by the church and Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, which allowed them to use their lot.

While Havens and fellow clown Kelly Sullivan, of Hagerstown, entertained passersby on Northern Avenue, other church members offered people a car wash and/or a bottle of water - for free.

"People were surprised that we weren't taking any money, even donations," Sullivan says. "Some were insistent that we take money."

Fellow clown and church elder Joe Graybill, of Hagerstown, wasn't in make-up the day of the wash. Instead, he was scrubbing cars.

"One gentleman said if we didn't take a donation, he wouldn't let us wash his car," Graybill says with a laugh.

Those who had their cars washed were also asked if they would like a prayer said for them or someone they knew. Graybill says most of those who stopped agreed to let the clowns pray with them.

"People really wanted to share their hurts," Graybill says.

And having those people be willing to have strangers pray with them, Graybill says, "was a real blessing." He says it is that simple act of kindness that showed "what church is supposed to be about."

For Graybill, becoming involved with the troupe is an extension of the church. "It's showing them the love of Jesus," Graybill says. "It's kind of why I do it."

Sullivan says the clowns don't take any money because of biblical principles.

"Basically, God's love is free," she says. "His salvation is free. It doesn't cost anything."

No talking

Sullivan has had "formal" amateur clowning experience, having been a member of Clown Alley 10 in Milwaukee. There, she says, she was taught the correct way to clown.

During her time with Clown Alley 10, Sullivan says the group performed at children's hospitals and nonprofit organizations. And during it all, Sullivan says there was no talking while in white face.

"It's the basic rule of clowning," she says.

The reason for not talking, Sullivan says, is that once the clown face is on, it means that the person has taken on the persona of whatever clown they are going to be. For Sullivan, her clown persona is Clancy.

"If you talk, they'll recognize your voice," she says.

Like Havens and Sullivan, Graybill has taken on his own persona. When he's in full make-up (which takes him nearly an hour to apply), his name is Pokie.

"I've always been kind of slow all my life," he says with a laugh.

For Sullivan it takes 20 to 30 minutes to get her full clown make-up on. It takes another 15 to 20 minutes to put on the clown outfit.

"The hardest part is not touching the make-up," Sullivan says.

Another problem with clowning is that sometimes there's no way to control the outside elements. The hotter it is, the more chances that the clown's smile will melt into a frown. This June, Sullivan says she and Havens were participating in an event at City Park. She says it was "98 degrees in the shade."

With the make-up on as well as the layers of clown clothes, Sullivan says it was hard to be cheerful. "I was just miserable," she says.

But Sullivan says she doesn't worry about those drops of sweat because she believes in their message. "We're trying to show the love of God," she says.

Fun with a mission

The Church Clowns' clothes have significance. Graybill says the white is to symbolize the purity of God's love. The red is to show the blood shed by Jesus.

"Everything points to the cross," he says.

Throughout this year, the troupe has been making several appearances at community events. Havens says they offer a wave, a smile, a hug if asked and pass out a small gift. But, Havens says, the point of the clown ministry isn't to be overtly religious. That's not their purpose.

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