Puppetry and The Pandemic

I have learned many new technology skills during this time of physical isolation and virtual ministry. I’m sure you have, too. I’ve also discovered that I could reach back to skills that I haven’t exercised in a while that find new life in these challenging times.

One of those skills is the art of puppetry. I’ve always been enamored with puppets, since my time growing up with the likes of Captain Kangaroo, Shari Lewis, and later Fred Rogers and the Muppets. There is something magical that happens when you animate these pieces of fabric and stuffing into a living character with particular personality traits.

At the Presbyterian School of Christian Education back in 1990 I actually took a class in puppetry and spent many long hours at the sewing machine making as many of these fabric friends, as I could in the short three-week intensive class. Puppet ministry was still in full swing in many churches. In my first ordained ministry at Spring Hill Presbyterian Church in Mobile, Alabama, I trained my middle school youth in the art of making puppets and producing puppet plays. A church member built a stage and we performed throughout the community and on mission trips.

Fast forward to the present and puppet ministry has taken a back seat to more technology friendly ways of getting across the biblical story and the formational aspects of a life Christian discipleship and service. However as people in educational ministry search for an optimal way of presenting Biblical stories online, puppetry is once again making a come back.

Why?

  1. Visually puppets are attractive and eye catching on the screen, as many of the people I listed above discovered with the advent of television.
  2. In a time when we’re physically distant and pastors and educators are talking to a screen, puppets give us a conversation partner with whom we can have a dialogue, often times embodying the voice of the missing child
  3. Puppets bring humor and life to a difficult situation. I remember in doing these community shows back in the 1990s, often just the appearance of the puppet on the stage would bring laughter from the children. They didn’t even have to say anything.
  4. Puppets can ask the questions that children may have, but not be able to voice. They don’t have to be shy or embarrassed to make mistakes or can ask a question that a child might feel is too silly to be asked.

So, when my home church asked me to film two children’s moments while our pastor was on vacation, I brought out Zeb (short for Zerubbabel), who I had built back in 1990 and this 30-year-old puppet made his debut assisting me with telling two stories from the book of 1 Samuel, which our church is currently studying:   Call of Samuel and  Capture of the Ark of the Covenant. You can view these two messages with the above links.

Let me know what you think about puppetry making a come back and any experiments that you are doing in this art form within your ministry. You can leave a comment here on the site or within the Hope4CE Facebook group.

Kathy L. Dawson, Benton Family Associate Professor of Christian Education, Columbia Theological Seminary, Hope4CE Steering Committee Member

World Food Day

You may not be aware of it, but Thursday, October 16 is World Food Day in Canada and the United States. This day was first established in 1979 in a collective effort to make the needs of hungry people known to the world at large.

Each year the World Food Programme(WFP)  of the United Nations publishes sobering facts about the number of hungry people in the world. Did you know, for instance, that there are at least 795 million people in the world who will go to bed hungry tonight? That is about one in every nine people. Asia is the continent that has the most hungry people, although the largest percentages of the total population can be found in sub-Saharan Africa. WFP also provides downloadable hunger maps that make the scope of this problem even more visible.

There are many resources available to churches who wish to educate about and simulate the issue of hunger. Continue reading

WWJT

This last Saturday I was with a group from Salem Presbytery exploring what it means to be The Hopeful Church. We looked at the current state of Christian education in mainline churches, particularly the PC(USA). We talked  about how difficult it is to change the model of Sunday School with which many of us have grown up.

Then we tried an activity to break us out of our preconceived notions of what Christian Education is about. I called it WWJT, which could be translated “What Would Jesus Teach?” or “Where Would Jesus Teach?” Continue reading

Back to Campus

This is the time of year for college students to return to campus or to attend for the first time. It seems to be a good time to talk about this transition from a faith perspective.  According to James Fowler’s stages of faith development, this is likely the age when young adults begin looking critically at the beliefs they have taken for granted in their younger years. They begin to take authority for their own beliefs. For this reason Sharon Daloz Parks in her book Big Questions, Worthy Dreams advocates for faith mentors to walk alongside emerging adults as they make this journey of reflecting on and wrestling with their faith.

For churches this is a time of sending their youth off around the country, sometimes with commissioning, sometimes with care packages, but neither they nor the family is there to walk alongside students as they grapple with all the new ideas and people that higher education may bring. Enter campus ministries–those hardworking folks who do this important work of partnering with young people on their faith journey. Continue reading

Back to School

It took me by surprise this week that the schools in my region were back in session. Where had the summer gone? As teachers set up their classrooms and families purchase their school supplies for another year, what are some ways that the church can be involved in supporting this yearly transition? Continue reading

Vacation Bible School-Yesterday and Today

It’s that time of year again when churches around the country hold Vacation Bible Schools in various formats. For a week or more the church is turned into a biblical marketplace or an underwater reef or a host of other locales to combine Scripture, music, crafts, and games to communicate the Gospel to children and others.

But where did this tradition begin? It seems that the first recorded summer Bible school in the United States was instituted by Mrs. Walker Aylette Hawes in 1898 in conjunction with Epiphany Baptist Church on New York City’s east side. Mrs. Hawes noticed how many immigrant children were roaming the streets in the summer, so she searched for a rented facility where she could begin a six-week summer school. The only available facility was a saloon and thus VBS was born in a bar. Continue reading

Flag Day

This Sunday marks a holiday in the United States that is mostly forgotten–Flag Day. It commemorates the official adoption of The Stars and Stripes as our national flag on June 14, 1777. Before this there were many flags in use and so the adoption of one flag style was an act of unifying the colonial forces fighting during the Revolutionary War.

Flags of the American Revolution

In many sanctuaries this flag is accompanied by another called the Christian flag. Did the Christian flag come to be as an act of unifying the forces during the Crusades? Was it designed by an ecumenical church council that drafted an accompanying creed or confession? Continue reading

Aims of Edutainment Parks

Last week I had the opportunity to spend a week in Florida and visited three different places designed to both entertain and educate, thus edutainment parks. They were the Holy Land Experience, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in the Universal parks, and Disney World. I could do a blog review of each, because there are definitely positives and negatives to each experience, but instead I was struck by their differing overall aims and how it shaped the way they crafted their experiences for the visitor. Continue reading