Clowns Surely Goodness and Saffron kneel in front while Lemmie (top left) and Papa Jack (far right) perform the Red Nose Ceremony on willing participants Bruce Howe, bishop of the diocese of Huron, and Rev. David Norton, rector of St. Mark’s church in London, Ont. [photo by JEAN URBACH ]
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Proverbs 17:22).
Clown ministry has a rich tradition in the church. In medieval times, services were in Latin, clowns were used to assist parishioners in understanding the service. In a “divine interruption,” clowns used humour to explain what was going on or to explain a point of theology. Yes, clowns in church.
What is the purpose of clown ministry? A good clown is a fun-house mirror, a warped reflection of a person, trait or society. The purpose of ministry is serving your fellow human beings, and by doing so, serving Jesus Christ. We should be serving our brothers and sisters in the way that the Lord has called us to with whatever talents He has given us.
Combining the two words, then, clown ministry is serving our brethren (if brothers are brethren, are sisters cisterns?) through clowning. This might be in a church service, youth group, Sunday school, a church picnic or in outreach. In a “nut” shell, that is clown ministry – humbling ourselves to lift others up, which is the heart of a clown.
Clown ministry has had a rebirth – professional clowns are taking “a leap of faith” and teaching the Word of God through clown ministry. It started at my church, St. Mark’s, a small parish in London, Ont., when Judy Carscadden (a.k.a. Lemmie the Clown) joined the church. Lemmie was well received at the 9 a.m. contemporary service when she presented a skit last year.
In addition to Lemmie, there are three other clowns in the parish: Saffron, Papa Jack the Hobo and Surely Goodness. During a recent visit by Bishop Bruce Howe, the four performed a skit entitled The Clown’s Picnic. Smiles and laughter came from the congregation as well as the bishop and rector Rev. David Norton. The grand finale was when the bishop and Fr. David were “crowned” with red clown noses.
Other clown ministry events have taken place at St. Mark’s. Saffron “baked a cake” for Fr. David’s birthday. On Christmas Eve, Judy and her lamb puppet Ewenice presented a dialogue. Clowns are typically present at social events at the parish.
Having grown up in a conservative church in the 1950s, where you were expected to sit still, be quiet and pay attention (not what kids do best), clown ministry seemed a bit strange to me at first. Now looking at the congregation and seeing “kids of all ages,” with contented smiles on their faces, I wish I had started clowning years ago.
Nancy McSloy (a.k.a. Surely Goodness) is a writer based in London, Ont.