UCC pastor uses laughs for interfaith peace
Written by Anthony Moujaes
August 9, 2012
A Christian, a Jew and a Muslim walk into a comedy club… Maybe you've heard a joke like that before. But have you heard it from a pastor?
Jen Munroe-Nathans, senior pastor of Church of Christ, Congregational, UCC in Millis, Mass., is part of a three-person comedy called Laugh in Peace. The group will perform at an interfaith event later this month to raise awareness that people of different faiths can share in laughter together.
A Massachusetts native, Munroe-Nathans will perform Aug. 30 in St. Louis, along with Azhar Usman and Rabbi Bob Alper, who is the Laugh In Peace Comedy Tour's organizer.
"I think certainly the interfaith stuff is critical, the peacemaking through laughter is also very dear to me," Munroe-Nathans said. "There's a part at the end of the show after all three of us have performed, (where) we sit on the stage and take questions and (talk about) why we feel laughing together can form community. As much as I love making people laugh, the part at the end really speaks to me."
The show is part of the 25th anniversary of the World of Difference Institute, created by the Anti-Defamation League with a goal of providing "anti-bias and diversity education programs for schools, universities, corporations and community law enforcement agencies throughout the United States and abroad," according to the comedy tour's website.
The website also states that Laugh in Peace "has been called a stereotype-destroying comedy show that believes humor may be the quickest way to world peace."
For her 40th birthday, Munroe-Nathans decided to begin learning stand-up comedy – one of the items on her bucket list – and has enjoyed making people laugh in the three years since.
Munroe-Nathans said she met Susan Sparks, a religious comedian from New York, and they shared a conversation about their work. Soon after, Sparks emailed Munroe-Nathans to see if she would perform at a local stand-up gig at a temple in Burlington, Mass., with Rabbi Alper. From there, Alper asked Munroe-Nathans if she'd perform at an interfaith comedy stop in Greenwich, Conn.
Munroe-Nathans likes to think that being funny is a natural trait, and says the root of her humor is drawn on life experiences. "A lot of the things are random things that happen around me, and sometimes they're exaggerated," she said. "In many ways, it's like writing a sermon, where you're always conscious of your word choice, making sure your words are bright and engaging."
Her jokes, which often have a religious angle, usually pertain to her family, her experiences in the church, and society's perceptions of a female clergyperson.
"I've had hecklers. I've not had anyone be vicious yet, and I pray that I have the grace to handle that well when it happens," Munroe-Nathans said. "I find it funny that I end up as the chaplain at the comedy club. People come up to me at the end of a show and want to talk about an uncle that passed away, so it can be interesting."
Success as a comedian isn't tempting Munroe-Nathans to change careers, however.
"I'm really happy being a pastor, so my comedy stuff is icing on the cake," she said. "I'm blessed to have a supportive congregation."
For more information on Munroe-Nathans, visit her website, www.jenmunroenathans.com.