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New York City church holds 'Clown Eucharist'

The Layman Online

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Looking like refugees from Clown Alley at Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus, ministers and many parishioners participated in a "Clown Eucharist" at an Episcopal church in New York City.

Earlier, the rector of Trinity Church-St. Paul's Chapel Trinity Church, the Rev. Dr. James Herbert Cooper, encouraged the parish family to come to church "in clown dress, big hats, floppy shoes or some sort of foolish garb. Those watching on the Internet might even be foolish enough to put on some white face or a big grease-paint smile as we worship God and learn about the structure of the Eucharist by being the circus which came to town and to church on that day."

The Rev. Dr. James Herbert Cooper breaks the bread during communion at Trinity Church in New York City during a 'Clown Eucharist' service. The church bulletin's order of worship for May 22 states:

"The Procession-Entry of the Gladiators arrangement by Owen Burdick: The Ring Master, Choir, Acolytes, and Clergy enter the Church."

Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.

Someone mimed the Old Testament reading, and three people mimed the Gospel reading. Then, the bulletin states, "The Ringmaster directs the Sacred Ministers to the front of the altar."

After that, listed under The Offertory, the bulletin states: "The alms, oblations and other offerings of the People are presented. The Celebrant blesses the gifts, the altar and the People. The People respond to the blessing with their noise makers."

During The Breaking of the Bread, according to the bulletin, "The Celebrant breaks the Bread. At the cue of the Ringmaster the People respond with noise makers."

And, during The Retiring Procession, as the ministers retire to the narthex, the bulletin states that, "The People toss their streamers into the aisle."

After the service, as people gathered outside for a parish picnic, one parishioner in clown makeup said, "It's okay to be happy."

In a letter posted on the church's Web site before the service, Cooper said that the church would celebrate Trinity Sunday with the Clown Eucharist, "'doing church' as if we were a circus come to town. We will celebrate the Eucharist and learn about the basic traditional outline for Eucharistic worship by experiencing it and participating in it from a new perspective."

While he admitted that it might "be a surprise to see clowns inside Trinity Church," he asked church members to think about "how we perceive the world in light of our relationship with Jesus could rightly be called foolish. Jesus looked at things in a new and strange way -- a foolish way. But, as St. Paul said, the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of the world. Paul declared himself a fool for Christ's sake."

According to Cooper, "clowns represent the underdog, the lowly, the remnant people. Their foolishness is a call to unpretentiousness. They take incredible risks -- balancing on tight ropes, eating fire, keeping silent, being poked by others or getting soaked in water. Clowns are parables in themselves, spending great amounts of energy uncovering small things, then showing forth the hidden treasure of life (like the kingdom of God) and, surprisingly to us, giving their most cherished possessions to others. ... Clowns look at the world, like parables, inside out and upside down: the last shall be first, the smallest seed is the greatest tree, and those who work all day get paid the same as those who worked an hour. To the world, this is foolishness.

"Yet foolishness -- the foolishness of God -- is wiser than man. It brings light, laughter, joy, renewal, salvation, and life. Whose fool are you?"

Read this article on The Layman Online website (new window will open).

Posted: 08-Jun-05

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