One minister finds an unconventional but creative way to connect with the unchurched.
Being a clown and engaging in a ministry as a Christian clown never would have occurred to me a few years ago. But as an Anglican priest, I feel compelled to find ways of reaching out to those beyond our church doors.
I’d been aware of Clown Ministry for many years so went looking on the internet for information. I discovered a wealth of how to books on Christian Clowning, many written by clergy, with Anglican priests being very well represented among the authors. The more I read and prayed about this type of ministry, the more I felt it was something I could do. I began to acquire the necessary props and allowed a Clown alter-ego to emerge. My Christian name, Deborah, means bee in Hebrew so my clown persona is “Bizzy Bea”.
I mentioned my thought of this new venture to my Bishop, probably secretly hoping he’d shut me down, but he was encouraging. That was it, I was committed. I can relate to how Peter must have felt when he stepped out of the boat to walk on the water. I too felt doubt and fear, called beyond my comfort zone to new ways of being involved in God’s work in the world. Trust me, Clowning is way beyond my introverted comfort zone!
I began practising putting on the special makeup and made a costume and soon, Bizzy Bea made her debut in the safety of St. Matthew/St. Paul’s Memorial Garden just in time for the Ladies’ Coffee Circle. Bizzy Bea always has a simple routine and message of loving God, accepting people, even the ones who are different, and bringing smiles, joy and laughter. Bizzy Bea tells Bible stories, blows bubbles, sings “bee” songs and children’s action songs, (such as “If you’re Happy and You Know it”) makes balloon bees, and always has stickers, stamps and other items to give to kids of all ages.
I have clowned for children’s groups, seniors, and people of all ages. I have clowned in hospitals, at schools, arenas, street markets, and even at Church. Bizzy Bea attended the Sunday School service and picnic to tell the Bible Story, which was aimed at all ages and replaced the sermon. A member of the lay ministry team led the Service as I don’t officiate at services as Bizzy Bea. Bizzy has brought smiles, hugs, and joy to many people.
If balloons are part of any potential program, I always inquire ahead of time about latex allergies and if that is a problem, I leave the balloons at home and plan to tell some jokes, along with the Bible stories and do a couple of simple magic tricks. I have also discovered that face painting is usually a hit with people of all ages, as long as it’s just a small design on a check. Being a bee clown, I generally paint a multi-coloured bumble bee for everyone. Face painting allows for a bit of one on one time with a child and allows them an opportunity to chat or ask Bizzy questions—which are often “God questions.” I sometimes use a bee or a small black dog puppet to help me tell the stories. And on occasion my little black shih tzu, Midnight, dressed in a bee costume, goes along as Baby Bee. She is a licenced St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog, so particularly enjoys going to the hospitals and seniors’ residences.
A couple of years ago, I took the Mission Shaped Ministry course offered online by Wycliffe College and Fresh Expressions Canada. There I learned that we have to adapt and find fresh ways of bringing the Gospel to people beyond the church door; and that helped boost my confidence.
Bizzy Bea is another way in which I can share God’s love. The character gets me into places and interacting with people I would normally not reach. She is well received and gives and receives lots of hugs. Bizzy Bea spreads God’s love one smile at a time.
Deborah Lonergan-Freake is an Anglican priest in the Anglican Diocese of Moosonee.