~from the Diocese of Albany. What next? A liturgical dance Way of the Cross?
Twenty years ago, a few clowns decided to change from making people laugh to making them cry.
With the help of a transitional deacon who had been nurturing the idea of a clown ministry, "The Way of the Cross in the Company of Clowns" was born.
They perform around the Albany Diocese only during Lent, with a poignant look at the passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus, and during Advent, when they celebrate the birth of Jesus.
"People loved it," Jack Ablett said of the early performances. He and his wife Rita are among the original founders of the ministry at St. Patrick's parish in Ravena.
"The initial [three] clowns had all trained at Hudson Valley Community College," in Troy, she explained. "Coincidentally, they were all parishioners at St. Patrick's. They had been talking about using their clowning talents in some kind of ministry. At that time, we had a transitional deacon at our parish, and he had written a script for the Way of the Cross with clowns as the participants."
The little troupe began their ministry in their own parish; within a few years, however, they were filling requests to perform in nearby parishes.
Over the years, the ministry has revised the script, added music and lighting, included mimes, and expanded the number of clowns, who range from children to senior citizens.
Initially, the group performed only on Friday evenings during Lent, the traditional day for Stations of the Cross.
By 1993, however, they were so overwhelmed with requests for performances that they decided to start performing on Wednesdays as well.
The premise of the story is that one clown, Marmelduke, is sad because he can't make people laugh anymore. As a result, he has lost his faith, and his friends have deserted him. A spirit comes to him and convinces him to follow Jesus through His passion and death.
As the journey winds its way through the Stations in a darkened church, the clown begins to understand the meaning of Jesus' life and death. At the last Station, his sadness turns to rejoicing, and as other clowns reflect his conversion.
"People usually are crying by the end of the performance and often, so are the clowns," Mrs. Ablett said.
Recalling a recent performance in front of developmentally disabled young adults, she said, "While we were getting ready for the performance, the group assembled themselves around a large crucifix at one end of the church. As we went out to begin, the church was all dark, except for a light highlighting the group. There they were, all assembled around the cross, waiting to watch us perform the Way of the Cross. We all began weeping when we saw them. There wasn't a dry eye in the church.
"There is so much joy in this ministry. We give a lot to those that come to watch us perform. On the other hand, we all get so much out of performing. When you see the look on people's faces at the end of the Stations, and feel the joy and love that is there, you know that the prayer of the Stations has been deeply felt and absorbed. It really touches people's hearts."