Written by Cliff Aerie
Puppets constructed by local UCC and Disciples churches for General Synod/Assembly participate in Cleveland's "Parade the Circle" event in June. W. Evan Golder photo.
What's 12-feet tall; purple, gold, red and teal; has plastic piping and aluminum duct work for arms; papier-mâché hands; a metal rod for a spine; deep piercing eyes peering from within a masked countenance; and flowing robes that seem to float across the floor?
A giant puppet? Yes!
Imagine this colorful creature gliding around the country's largest column-free convention hall. Now, imagine 30 of them accompanied by 50 youth delegates waving spirit poles—long bamboo rods tipped with matching colored streamers.
Such was the sight at the World Beat Festival on Sunday evening, July 15, at General Synod/Assembly in Kansas City, Mo. The painted masks of the puppets, representative of indigenous native cultures, set a creative theme for the gathering—a celebration of partnership in mission throughout the global community.
Processing to the music of a seven-piece global village ensemble, the puppets swayed and danced to "We Gather at the Welcome Table," composed for the occasion by Amy Liberatore from Binghamton, N.Y.
In response, the audience of more than 12,000 cheered and clapped in delight at the hand-painted, masked creations.
Where did these puppets come from? It took five months of planning, three months of construction, buckets of papier-mâché, reams of foam core, piping and tubing; more than 700 yards of fabric and the dedicated efforts of more than 100 people from 10 Cleveland-area UCC and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregations to fabricate these playful characters.
"I wanted to help my church members understand that they're connected to something wider than just their own congregation," says the Rev. Martha ("Marty") Smith of First UCC in Lakewood, Ohio. And it was fun.
"I've been playing in papier-mâché goop, sewing costumes and painting masks," says Smith. "It's been soul refreshing to be playing and doing ministry."
During the design and construction, members from the 10 churches worked side by side, built new friendships, experienced the power of creativity and, like Smith, discovered that they could have fun doing ministry together.
Robyn Henderson, a member of Euclid Avenue UCC in Cleveland, designed the masks. Her father, Bob Henderson, developed a process for constructing a three-dimensional effect, while her mother, Cyndi, helped dye more than 200 yards of fabric.
The construction crew ranged from elementary age children to retired senior citizens.
Working together at the Cleveland Museum of Art had a creative impact on everyone.
Karen and Dale Schmauder from Euclid Avenue Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) served on the design team. While Dale's crew constructed the body rigging, Karen, along with Donita Singerman (Heights Christian Church) and Blythe Chase (Pilgrim Congregational UCC), designed the puppets' colorful costumes, capes, head dresses and stoles.
"This was an exciting process for our church," said Karen. "We've had a puppet ministry for many years—hand puppets, but nothing of this size."
Euclid Avenue Christian Church raised almost $5,000 to send Karen and seven other members from the puppet ministry to Kansas City to act as puppeteers.
Now that Synod's over, each church will receive at least two puppets for its involvement in the building process. They will appear in community parades, Rally Day festivities, church picnics and worship.
Cliff Aerie, Special Events Producer for the UCC's Proclamation, Identity and Communication Ministry, produced the World Beat Fesitval and coordinated the creation of the puppets.