RICHFIELD - A group of Juniata Mennonite School students are broadening the definition of worship both in their hometowns and across the U.S.
The members of the school's puppet team, which includes youth ages 8 to 17, expresses worship through more than just traditional drama.
With an odd assortment of sticks and blacklights, puppets and multimedia, the team has conveyed its message of God's love to audiences as near as McAlisterville and as far away as Alaska.
Photo submitted by ASHLIE ANDERSON
The Juniata Mennonite School Puppet Team is made up of, from left, front, Noah Grundon, Olivia Esterline; kneeling, Brenda Esterline, Hannah Felker, Amy Esterline, Vicki Rathmell; standing, Mary Beth Barner, Caleb Metz, Logan Hicks and Ashlie Anderson. The ministry group is organizing the Pa. Creative Arts Ministry Day in Richfield.
"We express ourselves differently and do it for the glory of God," team member Hannah Felker said. "I really enjoy being on the team because everyone is an individual. When there is a lot of work involved, you realize how much you need each other individually."
Puppeteer Noah Grundon said each person on the team has a different talent to contribute to the group.
While the teammates take time to learn from each other, they also seek out training opportunities, said team leader Brenda Esterline, who also works at Juniata Mennonite.
"We do it for the Lord," Esterline said. "We need the right training, because of who we're representing."
In 2009, the team organized a day of creative arts workshops. The team is planning its second Pa. Creative Arts Ministry Day on March 19 at the Richfield Mennonite Church, located on U.S. 522 in Richfield.
Two years ago, about 125 people attended creative arts workshops, but most of them came from outside the area, Esterline said.
This year, the team hopes to attract more local participants, she said.
The Rev. Kevin Rathmell, pastor of Chatman Community Church in Port Trevorton and a JMS puppet team parent, said the workshops are applicable for every pastor, youth leader, Sunday school teacher and youth volunteer.
Workshop topics run the gamut from traditional puppetry techniques, miming, blacklight action, storytelling and engagement techniques for "non-movers."
"When you can involve people's minds in more than one sense ... they work together to reach more," Rathmell said.
In his own church services, Rathmell said he began to act out character monologues, a technique he learned from the 2009 workshop.
His church also introduced God Rods, or dowel rods that are used to tell a story or enhance a song.
Esterline said her church used the God Rods to emphasize the words of a Christmas song. She said the visual aspect along with the music helped the congregation to better soak in the message of the song.
The unique performing arts form provides a worship venue for those who are not good singers, speakers or actors, the pastor said. God Rods allows them to express worship in a unique and powerful way that they otherwise could not, he said.
Presenters for the March workshop will include nationally known Dave and June Privett of PlaySoup, who have designed puppets for Disney and Broadway.
Back by popular demand will be Jeff Smith of Salt and Light Ministries, whose creative storytelling performances struck the hearts of his listeners at the 2009 conference.
Rathmell described Smith as the iPad of creative arts ministry - "He is cutting edge."
Mary Jo Barner, a teacher at JMS and elementary Sunday school teacher, said she was struck by Smith's use of different voices to bring life to Scripture readings.
"... Scripture is not boring, but we can read it boring," she said.
Grundon said the day also will provide networking opportunities and the chance to swap ideas with other youth volunteers.
The day will include registration, worship, devotions, a performance and workshops. Participants may choose from 16 different workshops.
The cost for the day is $20 if registration is received before March 1, or $25 after the date. Meals will be available at a nominal price. Proceeds will offset the cost of the day's expenses.
Also during the conference, the National Christian Fellowship of Puppeteers will discuss starting a local chapter in the Richfield area, Esterline said.
An evening performance for the public will feature the dowel rod class, Evergreen Creative Ministries, Dave and June Privett of PlaySoup and Jeff Smith of Salt & Light Ministries. The free event will begin at 6:30 p.m. An offering will be taken.
For more information or to register, contact the Juniata Mennonite School at 463-2898 or Esterline at 694-3095.
"If they could take one thing with them and use it in their ministry, that one thing could create a firestorm of difference," Esterline said.