Puppeteer & Pal Meet the Kids

When you and your puppet pal are up close and personal with a live audience, especially kids, there’s no telling what might happen! But going “up close and personal” is a big ingredient in personal puppet ministry, so thinking about audience interaction is super important.

In this installment of the Personal Puppet Ministry series…

Let’s see what lessons about audience interaction we can glean from my gig with my little cow puppet pal at Harpursville United Methodist Church on Ascension Sunday. This was Moochacha’s first encounter with children during worship services.

Here’s a quick encore:
“Moochacha Learns about Saying Goodbye”

Singing “Jesus Loves Me” with the entire audience had already been scheduled to close every performance. You can’t beat that message! Hopefully the children will enjoy singing along, and those who don’t know the song will learn it as we sing. If you like to sing, you might want to select a signature song to feature in all your appearances, too.

The script for “Moochacha Learns about Saying Goodbye” did not specify any other direct interaction with the audience. In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that I hardly made any eye contact at all with the three kids who came forward for Children’s Time. My attention was glued onto Moochacha, talking to her, talking for her, and moving her head and body at appropriate times to give her a lively, responsive appearance.

Moochacha and Miss Linda meet the kids on Ascension Sunday at HUMCFixating on my puppet was partly due to nervousness. My nerves are always on high alert when I conduct services as a lay speaker. Children’s Time is the biggest fear factor of all. Let’s face it, little kids flummox me. My own kids flummoxed me (still do, in their thirties!). Other people’s kids flummox me even more. So I was wound up tight as a tick, sitting in the hot seat facing Jackson, Jayton, and Della Rae.

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The Puppet Leaves the Pulpit

My Personal Puppet Ministry saga continues! If you missed earlier posts in this series, you can catch up here:
Puppet Grace
Picking a Puppet Pal
Picking a Puppet Pal, Part 2
Puppet Pal~Personality Plus

More lessons learned with Moochacha

My last post shared the debut of my little cow puppet pal, Moochacha, during children’s time in worship services at Harpursville UMC and Ouaquaga UMC. That day, all the “children” in attendance were adults in our second childhood, so I performed the puppet script at the pulpit, with Moochacha perched on the lectern where everyone in the pews could see her.

(By the way, even though I use the word “perform” for what I do with my puppet pal, the purpose of personal puppet ministry is not to grab the spotlight. A puppet performance during a worship service, however entertaining it might be, is intended to put the spotlight on the Lord and his love.)

Moochacha’s second outing took us to the same two churches on June 2, Ascension Sunday. The theme of the sermon, scripture readings, prayers, and music (see bottom of post) was basically that Jesus left earth and returned to heaven in triumph, but he did not abandon us. My scripted conversation with Moochacha coordinated with that message.

We never know how many children will attend the Sunday morning services. Sometimes, none. So, the puppet skit must present a premise and message that are engaging for adults as well as children. Saying goodbye is an experience all ages can identify with, making it a good topic for our mixed audience. It was especially poignant for the older folks because several members of our close-knit church family were dealing with recent or imminent death of loved ones.

Moochacha Learns about Saying Goodbye:

As it turned out, on Ascension Sunday we were blessed with three early elementary age children at Harpursville. That blessing brought a few extra challenges for the puppet performance. This post will look at the logistical side of performing away from the pulpit.

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Puppet Pal ~ Personality Plus

My Personal Puppet Ministry saga continues! If you missed earlier posts in this series, you can catch up here:
Puppet Grace
Picking a Puppet Pal
Picking a Puppet Pal, Part 2

Once again, audio recordings of today’s post are provided for your listening pleasure (I hope!). The post in written transcript form follows, for those who prefer to read.

Audio post, part 1:

Personal Puppet Ministry

As I’ve explained in previous posts in this series, personal puppet ministry is what I call a solo puppeteer and his/her puppet pal sharing God’s love by chatting back and forth in front of an audience, basically playing the “role” of themselves. It’s a totally different style from puppet plays in which the puppeteers are hidden under a stage where puppets act out a Bible story or a story with a moral lesson. Personal puppet ministry is more interactive with the audience, and more… well, personal.

I’m a novice puppeteer, starting out with two puppet pal candidates. One is a cute little cow. The other is a black crow.

Stuffed cow with blue eyesBlack crow

The crow needs major surgery to be converted from a regular stuffed animal to a hand puppet, so I’m going to postpone developing that character until I have time to make it into a functioning puppet.

The cow is ready to use as soon as I give it a name, a voice, and a personality. Those three elements will hopefully work together to make my puppet a truly memorable character.

My puppet pal’s personality

By “personality,” I mean the kind of characteristics it will have. Will it be male or female or gender-neutral? Sweet or feisty? Talkative or shy? Casual or elegant? Impulsive or thoughtful? City or country? That sort of thing.

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Worship~The Gift of Knowing

By popular demand (okay, two or three requests), I’m posting the services I conducted at Harpursville United Methodist Church and Ouaquaga Methodist Church yesterday. I did most of the talking, but I was admittedly outshone by tenor Tony Villecco, who graced both churches with a solo of “Because You Loved Me First,” and by the debut appearance of my new puppet pal, Moochacha. As far as I know, no one in the congregation whipped out a cell phone to record video of the proceedings, but my trusty digital voice recorder did supply audio.

The order of worship is reproduced below, with links to audio of individual elements. If you prefer to listen to a single audio file of the prayers, scripture readings, and sermon (no music, no puppet), click HERE.

ORDER OF WORSHIP

Harpursville and Ouaquaga United Methodist Churches
Sunday, April 28, 2019
Second Sunday of Easter 

Greeting and Announcements
Joys and Prayer Requests

Prayer of Petition
Gracious God, thank you for all your many blessings. You listen to each joyful prayer and respond to every cry of need. Comfort those whose concerns we’ve lifted up, aloud or in our hearts, that they may know your deep, sustaining love. We ask this in the holy name of Jesus. Amen.

Entrance Music/Lighting of the Candles

Call To Worship
One: Come to worship the living God!
Many: Our Creator, who offers to us the gift of eternal life.
One: Come to follow the risen Christ!
Many: Our Savior Jesus, who invites us to rise with him in triumph over death.
One: Come to encounter the Holy Spirit!
Many: Our Advocate and Guide, who leads us in the path of life.
All: We shall raise our voices in praise, thanks, and hope this day!

Hymn:   Before Us, Alive (NSMS #17 score)

Unison Prayer
Almighty God, through your only Son you overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life. Grant that we who celebrate our Lord’s resurrection, by the renewing of your Spirit, may arise from the death of sin to the life of righteousness; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BOW #393)

Special Music by Tony Villecco   Because You Loved Me First (NSMS #48 score)

Scripture Reading Acts 5:27–32

Psalter   Psalm 150

Scripture Reading Revelation 1:4–8

Gloria Patri

 

Youth Message  Sharing What We Know
I
ntroducing Moochacha

Stuffed cow with blue eyes
Hymn:   God Loved the World
  (NSMS #28 alternate score)


Gospel Reading
John 20:19–31


Message
  The Gift of Knowing

Offering our Gifts to the Lord

Offertory Hymn: Freely, Freely

Doxology

Prayer of Dedication Gracious God, we are grateful for your generous provision. Accept our gifts of time, talent, and treasure, and guide your church to use our offerings wisely and well, for your work in the world. Amen.

Hymn:   Go, and Tell the World   (NSMS #54 score)

Benediction and Sending Forth

Closing Song
Harpursville – God Be With You Till We Meet Again   (v. 1)
Ouaquaga – Amen

 

Picking a Puppet Pal, Part 2

My Personal Puppet Ministry saga continues! If you missed previous posts in this series, you can catch up here:
Puppet Grace
Picking a Puppet Pal

Click on the link below to listen to an MP3 audio recording of today’s post.
The transcript follows, with a few photos for illustration.
Audio: Picking a Puppet Pal-Part 2

Picking a puppet pal for personal puppet ministry, continued …

Thanks for joining me again on my personal puppet ministry journey. As I explained in a previous post in this series, personal puppet ministry is what I call a solo puppeteer and his/her puppet pal sharing God’s love by chatting back and forth in front of an audience, basically playing the “role” of themselves. Future posts will get into performance and ministry topics. Right now, I’m just getting started, and the first step is coming up with my puppet pal.

Little teddy bear and brown cow Collie dog stuffed animal toy

In my previous post, I narrowed down my search to the general category of hand puppet. Then the idea of converting a stuffed animal toy into a one-of-a-kind hand puppet really appealed to me. Luckily, a few good candidates were already sitting around the house, including the little teddy bear, brown cow, and collie dog pictured above.

A puppet pal to crow about

My favorite is the black crow. It has big googly eyes, dangly yellow feet, stubby wings, and a big yellow beak. Right away, great ideas rolled into my head for ministry skits and scripted conversations that could be custom-made for a black bird puppet pal. The possibilities are pretty exciting.

Black crow

But what about the construction? Could the stuffed crow toy be remodeled into a workable hand puppet?

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Hello, Beautiful! Jeanette Levellie

Meet Jeanette Levellie, co-author (with Beth Gormong) of Hello, Beautiful! Finally Love Yourself Just As You Are, hot off the press this week from Elk Lake Publishing. Hello, Beautiful! is an interactive devotional book for women. The book impressed me so much that I asked Jen to meet me here on Faith Songs for a cyber-interview.

Jeanette Levellie

As you might guess from that mop of red hair, adjectives like “spunky” and “lively” tend to pop up in descriptions of Jeanette. She’s a pastor’s wife, a prolific writer, and a popular speaker. She has authored five books and hundreds of stories, articles, greeting card verses, and calendar poems.

Interview: Jeanette Levellie with Linda Bonney Olin

Linda: Hi, Jen! Welcome! To start off with, tell us why, in general, you write the things you write.

Jen: Hi, Linda! Thanks for having me today. The goals of my writing are to help others know God as a real person, to bring more laughter into the world, and to offer hope for broken souls.

Linda: You certainly did all those things with your previous inspirational books.

Two Scoops of Grace with Chuckles on Top
The Heart of Humor: Sixty Helpings of Hilarity to Nourish Your Soul

Touchable God: Finding the Lord’s Friendship Through Prayer

Hello, Beautiful! book cover

But I think your new project is the most special of all. Why did you decide to write Hello, Beautiful?

Jen: I saw that women, even Christian women, did not think of themselves as beautiful. Our self-images are skewed by the world around us and what we were told as children. We need to see ourselves through the eyes of love: God’s.

Linda: So true! As my age and weight keep increasing, I avoid looking in the mirror, because I don’t much like what I see. To be honest, though, I half expected from the subtitle (Finally Love Yourself Just As You Are) that Hello, Beautiful! would be one of those self-empowerment books that tell women they can have anything they want, and do anything they want, and be anything they want, simply by believing in themselves. Happily, I was wrong. Hello, Beautiful! is a Bible-based Christian devotional, not a self-devotional. What religious point of view did you bring to the devotions?

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Picking a Puppet Pal

Linda Bonney Olin: "Puppet Pal Auditions Today"My Personal Puppet Ministry saga continues! If you missed my previous post, you can catch up here: Puppet Grace

Click on the link below to listen to an MP3 recording of today’s post.
The transcript follows, with a few photos for illustration.
Audio: Picking a Puppet Pal-Puppet Types

Picking a puppet pal for personal puppet ministry

Thanks for joining me on my latest ministry adventure. I introduced the concept of personal puppet ministry in a previous post. This post will cover the first practical steps toward starting my personal puppet ministry.

Personal puppet ministry = one puppeteer + one puppet pal + an audience.
I’ll round up the audience later, when I’m ready to perform. For the moment, here I am, the one puppeteer. But the other half of the equation is missing. Where’s my puppet pal?

I don’t have one, not yet. So the next step for me is to pick and personalize a puppet pal to perform with. On to the puppet pal auditions!

Let’s consider some types of puppets that are out there and talk about design choices that might work well for my personal puppet ministry, or not so much.

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The Blizzard Doxology Snowballs

Praise God from Whom All Blizzards FlowMy new verse “Praise God from Whom All Blizzards Flow” was born on January 18, 2019. Two months later, winter has not yet relinquished its icy grip. We’ve run through the alphabet of storm names all the way to Winter Storm Ulmer. And that light-hearted blizzard doxology has been shared many thousands of times on social media, hopefully brightening the long, snowy season.

Snow in the air, and Linda on the air

Viral postings of the blizzard doxology led to an invitation from WWIB FM in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin to join their Wake-Up Show host Caleb Svendsen for a radio interview. (My segment starts at the 2:00 mark, with Caleb’s brother Josh singing his own version of the blizzard doxology.) It was 25 below at their location when I called in, and only a little warmer here in the Susquehanna Valley. Brrr! But we had a fun chat, and we warmed up one lucky giveaway winner with a signed copy of Now Sings My Soul: New Songs for the Lord.

Singing the faith in all circumstances

God only knows how many chilly church choirs and congregations have sung the blizzard doxology, but Googling the hymn title produced a few hints.

Here’s a nice rendition by Pastor David Hewitt at King of Glory, Carmel, Indiana.

2019.01.20 | Pastor David Hewitt | Praise God From Whom All Blizzards Flow from KOGCarmel on Vimeo.

And from the little congregation of Holy Cross in Burlington, Ontario Canada:

Edit: Just found a video on Facebook from a very well-rehearsed youth choir at St. Ann Catholic Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina:

 

Here’s the choir of West Lebanon Congregational Church, one of the few churches in New Hampshire that braved the blizzard to hold a Sunday worship service on January 20, 2019:

 

And the Sanctuary Choir of All Saints Lutheran Church, ELCA in Cottage Grove, Minnesota:
All Saints Lutheran Church, ELCA Sanctuary Choir

A different faith song

Meanwhile, areas farther south have sung a different tune. Melting snow, heavy rain, and driving winds and tornados have caused widespread devastation. No laughing matter there. But people of faith continue to call upon the Lord to hold them close through the storm and walk with them as they struggle through the aftermath. Let’s raise prayers for their safety, still praising the God of strength and compassion.

Blessings,
Linda

Puppet Grace

Remember the Neighborhood of Make-Believe on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood?

Inspiration for puppet ministry from Mister Rogers

The recent documentary film Won’t You Be My Neighbor? brought to mind King Friday the Thirteenth, Lady Elaine Fairchilde, Daniel Tiger, Henrietta Pussycat, and other puppet characters created by the legendary Fred Rogers. Sometimes they chatted with a live-actor character like Lady Aberlin. But the people who moved and voiced the hand puppets stayed hidden behind the puppet stage.

Even more wonderful than those Neighborhood of Make-Believe episodes was seeing Fred Rogers’ skill and grace in face-to-face interactions with children. In my favorite segment of the documentary, Mr. Rogers and one puppet friend, shy Daniel Tiger, sat and talked with a little boy about an issue the child was worried about. The child could see that the puppet’s body was a piece of fabric covering the man’s hand. Daniel Tiger’s mouth didn’t open and close. In fact, Daniel’s whole face was embroidered in a fixed, rather solemn expression.

Fred Rogers was not a ventriloquist. His mouth moved when he voiced his puppet, so it was plain to see that the man was the one talking (in a different voice, of course) when Daniel “spoke.” That didn’t matter. A connection quickly formed between the kind man, the gentle puppet, and the audience (an audience of one, in this case), thanks to Mr. Rogers’ compassionate, conversational approach.

Was Jesus or God or religion of any kind mentioned during the little boy’s encounter with Mr. Rogers and Daniel Tiger? No. Yet that was a great example of what I call “personal puppet ministry”: a puppeteer and a puppet pal sharing God’s love with an audience of any size and any age, face to face, up close and personal.

Is God calling us to try personal puppet ministry?

You and I might never be the next Fred Rogers. But maybe we can share a little love and grace in our corner of the world, with the help of a puppet pal.

First we’d need to pick and personalize a puppet pal that suits our individual preferences and circumstances.

A photo of Linda Bonney Olin, with a hand waiting for a puppet pal

We’ll give our pal a name, a personality, a “look,” and a voice. Then we’ll need to learn how to perform with our pal, and lots more.

I say “we” because I hope you’ll embark on this adventure too. Your choices will be unique to you, and your personal puppet ministry will be just as special as you are!

Follow along as I post my progress. It may be slow. Like you, I have lots of other obligations that demand my time. But I’m eager to give it a shot! How about you?

Let’s share our tidbits of information, expertise, and useful resources for personal puppet ministry. Our successes and our setbacks, too.

Encouragement is a gift of pure gold to anyone stepping out on a brave adventure, so all my readers are invited to chime in with supportive comments.

Blessings,
Linda

Next post in this series: Picking a Puppet Pal

Puppet Ministry Resources

A Blizzard of Praise

Music score of "Praise God from Whom All Blizzards Flow" by Linda Bonney Olin

A blizzard of shares

Last Friday I woke up to a weekend forecast calling for heavy snow and icy mixes across the Northeast. Area churches were already canceling Sunday services to keep their congregations safe at home. I’m not a fan of arctic weather. But we are called to give thanks and praise in all circumstances, even blizzards.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18  NRSV

So I penned a lighthearted but sincere doxology verse to fit the snowy circumstances and posted it on Facebook. Amazingly, this simple little ditty was shared and re-shared on Facebook more than 3,500 times in its first three days of existence. Churches in the USA and Canada have contacted me for permission to use it. Winter Storm Harper has come and gone, but the avalanche of interest in “Praise God from Whom All Blizzards Flow” keeps on rolling.

The tune in my score, pictured above, is LASST UNS ERFREUEN (“All Creatures of Our God and King”). My home church sings “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” to that tune (United Methodist Hymnal #94). If you are accustomed to the OLD 100th setting (UMH #95), you can sing my text to that tune by skipping the parts in parentheses. Too bad—you’ll have to drop the snowballs!

Praise God from whom all blizzards flow,
when snow comes down and cold winds blow.
(Alleluia! Alleluia!)
Praise God for shovels, gloves, and plows
when four-foot drifts surround your house.
(If more snow falls,
praise for snowballs.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!) 

There is majesty in God’s wintry gifts, and some fun too. Truly our Creator is worthy of praise in the midst of it all!

Stay warm and safe, my friends. And keep singing!
Blessings,
Linda