Thursday, July 29, 2010

Giant Puppets in Worship--Trend or Tragedy?

There's been some snickering in the blogosphere about the opening worship processional at the 219th General Assembly, particularly over the giant puppets that were in evidence. One wag dubbed this "the Lion King meets the PCUSA."

(If you are like me and didn't attend, then you can see a clip on You Tube here and here.)

The blog Bad Vestments even called them the Giant Paper-Mache' Calvinist Puppets of Doom. I have to admit I was sad to realize that I can't kid my Episcopalian brother about their Clown Eucharists anymore!

Yesterday Bad Vestments revealed that he had found a trend in the use of Giant Puppets in worship among several Protestant denominations and ranted: "what the hell is the deal with giant puppets during Christian worship?"

So, Gentle Readers, what say you?


Teri said...

I would think it depends on a number of factors--
the scripture you are trying to illuminate (so, for instance, from watching that first GA video it seemed fairly clear to me that they were offering another way for people to enter into the creation least, not having been there, I hope that's where they were going!);
the size of your space/congregation (this would never work in my little sanctuary that was built in 1872 and seats 140 people but could work in a large and more modern space filled with people);
the intent and way it's carried out: is this about multiple intelligences/proclaiming the word in multi-sensory rather than ONLY verbal form? or is it about doing something different just because? Or worse, is it cultural appropriation because it's "cool"? (I ask these same questions of music!);
the interpretation--how do the worship leaders help people think theologically about the experience they have just had, and direct them to God, not to their own fascination or entertainment?

If these questions don't lead to Christ...neither does whatever we're doing in worship, whether it's puppets or liturgical dance or traditional hymns or even the sermon.

My two cents, as a pastor who LOVES creative worship that engages all the senses...but is also sort of ridiculously Reformed.

ceemac said...

Teri did a good job of summing up what I was thinking.

One of the strengths of reformed folks is that we tend to be wordy and thoughtful. Of course, one of the weaknesses of reformed folks is that we tend to be wordy and thoughtful

Jules said...

Okay, I watched the videos--or most of them. They are hard to watch because they are so poorly recorded and the music, repetitive, and canned. I don't think I got much of an idea of what it must have been like to be there from those clips.

But I essentially agree with Teri. I don't think I can draw a hard and fast line and say that a thing NEVER belongs in worship, but some things are done well and some are done poorly. To the point of idolatry.

I know a church that refused to have any banners or liturgical art in the sanctuary--not out of any sense of calvanism, but because a prominent member had paid for the re-plastering of the walls and SHE did not ever want anything attached to HER plaster.

That is idolatry of a different sort.

Quotidian Grace said...

That's a great story about the congregant and her plaster--good illustration of idolatry!

ellbee said...

I thought the puppets worked in the GA service, partly because of the gigantic worship space and also because of the way the processional was introduced culturally.

I found the procession was quite moving in person, but I can also see how they wouldn't translate well on video. Nor would it be everyone's cup of tea.

As we know from Ecclesiastes, there is a time (and place)for everything. I do hope these puppets are not a trend... that would be tragic, indeed. said...

Quite frankly, I find them frightening and scary to little children and the faces are neither bright or uplifting. With all the gloom and doom, no wonder our membership/attendence is down!

Jules said...

And of course thirty lashes with a wet liturgical ribbon for me for misspelling "Calvinism". :)

Lisa said...

Thank you, Teri. I wish I had said all that!

I was at the GA service and found it appropriate, exciting, inspiring, and energizing based on what was said, done, celebrated, sung, and preached during the worship service. But I can imagine that it wouldn't quite work as a brief video presentation!

No children seemed to be too scared. The little girl sitting next to me (about 2 1/2 or 3) loved it! I think this is partly because of the very large space we were in - the Giant Puppets were actually dwarfed by the space and so didn't seem formidable at all but seemed to "fit." Smaller figures would have been lost in all that space.

I wouldn't advocate this as a weekly practice :), but it worked in this worship space and time.

ceemac said...


I seem to recall that you started this blog after attending the APCE where Len Sweet was the keynote.

I revisit the DVD of his opening plenary at least once a year. That's the one that used Starbucks and EPIC to explain postmodern culture.

Assuming that the puppets at GA were used well, I wonder what sweet would have to say about the negative reaction to them.

Quotidian Grace said...


Yes, you are right. I began blogging after hearing Len Sweet give the keynote addresses at APCE.

I really don't know what he would say about the use of the puppets (as you say, assuming they were used well.) I'm not a student of his thought, really. His encouragement to use the internet to share faith is what inspired me. I would not call myself an emergent but rather a traditionalist when it comes to worship forms.

Steve said...

As a guy who makes puppets, and for entertainment / dark comedy at that, I find puppetry on large scale religious ceremonies to be quite disturbing. Understood for the smaller ministry / day care type of crowds as a form of lesson planning and entertainment. On the grand scale like in your original article though I find it a bit distressing. If I'm looking for spirituality and guidance, I'm looking for that from another human, not a guy with his hand up a puppets butt.

Hope my viewpoint isn't too harsh, it's just my realist point of view as someone on the creative site of puppetry.

Quotidian Grace said...


Thanks for sharing your unique point of view on this subject! Great stuff.

Christine Kooi said...

Frankly I found this to be a non-issue. The Layman tried hard to make a scandal out of it, as that publication is wont to do, but just because something may be (to some) aesthetically unappealing or liturgically novel does not necessarily make it pagan or idolatrous, as the Layman has insinuated.

Stewart said...

I was sitting in the bleachers during this service and felt that the scale of the puppets worked in that space. One of the reasons they worked was that they were of a size that made them visible.

I experienced the gentle movement and posture of arms of the towering puppets as invitations to lift my heart and voice in praise to the God who had created everything. And that fit very nicely with the the opening hymn.

I should also note that the puppets did not reappear in worship after the processional, so they did not remain the focus of our attention during the remainder of the two-hour service.

If the making and presence of those puppets is to be considered idolatry, I wonder when we will start hearing objections to the use of projection screens on which enormous images of worship leaders are presented to the worshiping community.

Quotidian Grace said...

Let's be clear: nowhere have I labeled the use of these puppets "idolatrous." If others have done so elsewhere on the internet, that's their call and they can defend it.

I think its in bad taste and not conducive to worship, but assume that those who planned it did so in all good faith.

I'm joined in that view by at least one of the celebrants in that processional who emailed me privately.

ceemac said...

I find it interesting that the voting was overwhelmingly opposed to the puppets. But 3 of the 4 who commented (including your e-mailer) who were actually there have a favorable impression of the role the puppets played in the service.

ceemac said...

FYI, I meant including your e-mailer as one of 4 commenting not as one of 3 commenting favorably