7 x 3 1/2
In 1975, I entered
Wesley Theological Seminary as a working artist
seeking theological literacy. Four years later,
on April 1, one month before graduation, I
attended weekly chapel. To my horror, two very
fat clowns were galloping up and down the center
aisle on hobbyhorses. As worship unfolded, their
antic gestures led to applying a bold swipe of
lipstick on random congregants. I rose abruptly
and left. My deeply held Episcopalian conviction
about the dignity of worship was disrupted. I
remember thinking, have I spent the last four
years of my life for this? All I could do was
7 x 3 1/2 fiber clown.
In the following fall, I returned to the
seminary as an invited artist-in-residence to
the faculty. I brought the clown with me and
hung him on the studio wall opposing its double
door entrance. Shortly thereafter, I noticed a
uniformed Army chaplain who predictably would
show up and linger at the entrance every
Wednesday morning. One day he finally entered.
I have a clown ministry at the Walter Reed Army
Medical Center on the Pediatric Oncology Ward. I
wonder if we might borrow that clown.
Months later at the installation service on this
ward, an eleven year old leukemia victim
tethered to a portable I.V. bottle clung to me.
In a loud voice she announced, Im going to
name him Charlie.
Charlie became the medium for ministry.
Traumatized children who could not speak, spoke
through Charlie, while he endured the indignity
of pretend needle punctures, chemotherapy,
anesthesia, and surgery.
Charlie, in his new setting, ministered to me
too. For decades I have struggled with feelings
of fear and impotence brought on by my memories
of stories and encounters in radiology
departments with my medical doctor father, a
cancer specialist. While it might have been
smarter after that April Chapel Service to study
the analytical concepts undergirding clown
ministry, I sought instead a creative artistic
response admittedly cathartic in process.
Charlie, created out of rebellion, has brought
me full circle. Now I mentor, as a seminary
faculty member, an occasional student in clown
ministry! And a few of my fears have subsided.