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Ruiral ministries: Puppets help all generations ‘catch the spirit’

By Staff | Oct 29, 2009

The Lanesboro church's puppet ministry troupe includes adults, teenagers and grade school children who perform with a wide variety of puppets.

LANESBORO – From Howdy Doody to the Muppets, puppets have long entertained children and adults. As a growing number of churches incorporate puppet ministries to spread the Good News, members of the Lanesboro United Methodist Church are using this opportunity to enhance their ministry and revitalize their rural congregation.

“We’re all called to share the word of God, and we’re using a multi-generational approach through our puppet ministry to take God’s message outside these walls,” said Bill Durham, 59, who performs with the troupe.

Many unique opportunities for ministry have opened up for Lanesboro’s puppeteers, who range from grade school children to grandparents. This gospel-based group, which embraces the idea that it’s all right to have a good time with the Lord, will soon be entering its fifth year of sharing humorous, spiritual and patriotic messages by using a combination of songs, skits and musical interpretations.

The full troupe, which includes 15 to 20 puppeteers, has performed with its full-arm puppets at area churches and nursing homes, an auxiliary meeting at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Carroll, the Challenge Day Summer Olympics at Opportunity Living in Lake City, the Calhoun County REC’s annual meeting and others.

During the shows, which can range from 20 minutes to 45 minutes, the puppets “sing along” to a number of recorded songs, including parodies of pop music like “YMCA,” which the puppets perform as “Why Not Today?” The puppets, which include a camel quartet, a snake, sheep, frogs and many other characters, incorporate humor as they share wisdom and hope from the Bible.

“Not only do the puppets leave people with a smile on their faces and happiness in their hearts, but they help the kids learn the Bible stories and enhance people’s spiritual growth,” said Alyson Schroeder, a musician and puppeteer.

Team effort benefits the ministry

For this small church, located in the northeast corner of Carroll County, of approximately 150 people, the puppet ministry requires a team effort to be successful. “From practices at the church on Wednesday evenings and Sundays, to performances on the road, it takes everyone’s help to make this work,” said Doneta DeVries, who helps direct the group.

The inspiration for the puppet ministry started in 2001, when DeVries’ sister and her fellow Methodist church members from Marion, brought their puppet ministry to perform in Lanesboro.

From 2002 through 2005, the Lanesboro church members borrowed puppets from the Marion church for special events. By December 2005, the church acquired its own puppets, including Mary and Joseph, a donkey, a cow, a sheep and camels, to perform the nativity story.

Since then, the Lanesboro troupe has added more than 40 puppets, including two that require two people to operate. Many of the puppets are purchased from the mail-order company One Way Street in Colorado.

Since they range from $15 to $20 for smaller characters up to $120 each for larger puppets, the Lanesboro church has hosted ice cream socials to raise money for the puppet ministry. In addition, members have donated money to purchase specific puppets for the ministry.

Starting a puppet ministry doesn’t have to require a big investment, added DeVries, who noted that about 40 people fill the pews at the Lanesboro church on a typical Sunday morning. The Lanesboro group’s stage, which is constructed of PVC pipes and donated curtains, works well for performances at the church and can easily be dismantled and packed up when the troupe goes on the road.

“If you want to start a puppet ministry, the most important thing is to pray about it,” DeVries said. “That’s what we did, and then we started asking our congregation to help out. When we explained our needs, the volunteers came forward.”

Investing in the future

Lanesboro’s puppet ministry requires volunteers of all kinds, including people to start and stop the recorded music during performances, college students who are willing to perform with the troupe when they are available, and mothers like Marie Streeter who create the colorful signs and banners used during the shows. Steve Streeter, a military veteran, carries the American flag during the patriotic songs.

“This church is willing to try new things and work together to reach its goals,” said Pastor Lexie Kirkpatrick, who recently marked her 21st year in the ministry and has served the Lanesboro congregation since July. “They are outwardly focused, not just inwardly focused, and this makes a big difference.”

The puppeteers, who have knack for bringing their puppets to life, said they don’t get nervous when they perform, since they are located behind a curtain. “Your arms can get tired after a while, and you have to keep the puppet’s mouth moving with the music, but it’s fun,” said Hannah Streeter, one of the young troupe members.

Supporting the youth through the puppet ministry is a key to the success of the Lanesboro church’s outreach, Durham said. “We invest heavily in our kids, and it comes back to us.

“These extraordinary young people give 110 percent, no matter what, and they are a blessing not only to our church, but to the people they minister to.”

Contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

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