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Clowns Abound at Church Service - NY Daily News

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  • revjrl
    New York Daily News - http://www.nydailynews.com Clowns abound at church service Saturday, May 28th, 2005 The main Sunday service at historic Trinity Church
    Message 1 of 1 , May 28, 2005
      New York Daily News - http://www.nydailynews.com
      Clowns abound at church service

      Saturday, May 28th, 2005

      The main Sunday service at historic Trinity Church was inspired by
      something the Apostle Paul wrote in a letter to Christians in the
      Greek city of Corinth.
      "We are fools for the sake of Christ," he told them.

      And so, in that spirit, the Rev. James Cooper, rector of the
      celebrated Episcopal sanctuary at Broadway and Wall St., greeted
      worshipers last Sunday in some highly unorthodox vestments - a
      checked red-and-white clown suit, red fright wig, rubber nose and
      large floppy shoes. Then, in what was almost surely the most unusual
      church service most parishioners ever experienced, he presided at
      a "Clown Eucharist" that included circus music during the opening
      procession, a mimed sermon, jugglers and outlandishly dressed ushers
      blowing soap bubbles at worshipers.

      "I'd never seen anything like it," said the Rev. Canon Ann Mallonee,
      vicar of Trinity parish, who wore a ragged hobo outfit, battered
      bowler hat and flapping 22EEE shoes - 14 sizes larger than her normal
      footwear - while helping Cooper lead the service.

      "The closest thing in my experience," she said, "was when I was a
      teenager [in Wichita, Kan.]. We performed 'Godspell,'" a rock musical
      based on the life of Jesus.

      But to Cooper, the "Clown Eucharist" was more than a liturgical
      novelty. He led gospel-in-grease paint services for several years
      before becoming rector of Trinity.

      In a letter inviting parishioners to wear "foolish garb" to the
      service, he wrote, "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."

      In the letter, headed "Note to Self: Bring Big Floppy Shoes and Round
      Red Nose to Church May 22," he wrote, "We are all fools of one sort
      or another.... Whose fool are you?"

      To encourage people to get in the mood, ushers handed out noisemakers
      and big red noses to everybody, but only a few of the 450 or so
      worshipers, among them several dozen tourists, wore any clownish
      accoutrements. "I'm self-conscious about doing that kind of thing in
      church," one woman said.

      This is not a problem for Cooper, who was installed 10 months ago as
      the 17th rector in the 308-year history of Trinity. In his previous
      church, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., he fired up chain saws and rode
      motorcycles down the aisle to make sermon points.

      It was there that he started the clown service, after seeing a film
      about an Episcopal priest's clown ministry.

      Historically, there is nothing new about clown services. In the early
      centuries of the Catholic Church, one annual Mass was called the
      Feast of Fools, with priests wearing dunce caps in some cases. It
      included much mocking of church authority and a ritual reversal of
      roles, for the lowly and their social, political, economic and royal

      Nor is there anything especially profane about clown services - no
      more, that is, than the blessing of animals in many churches or the
      many jazz, rock and hip-hop services around the city. One of the
      city's most popular hip-hop services, which draws some of the genre's
      big names, is scheduled June 3 at Trinity Episcopal Church of
      Morrisania in the Bronx.

      "I was surprised at how spiritual I felt about our service," said
      Mallonee, who joined the Trinity staff last October after serving as
      interim dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford, Conn.

      The idea, Cooper had announced, was to turn Trinity into a circus for
      the day, and with streamers and balloons decorating the sanctuary, it
      did look a bit like the big top. There was even a ringmaster, David
      Jette, whose normal title is head verger (the official charged with
      overseeing day-to-day parish life), dressed in spangled tuxedo,
      wearing grease paint and waving a noisemaker.

      Except for the music, sung by a choir wearing everything from Viking
      horns to red wigs and painted-on grins, the entire service, from the
      Communion and collection to liturgical prayers and readings, was

      Perhaps most startlingly, Cooper acted out the sermon, which was
      based on Christ's command to the disciples to go preach to the world,
      using only hands, body language and facial expressions.

      "It seemed so natural," Mallonee said. "To me, the people who looked
      out of place were the ones who did not dress up."
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