TRUSSVILLE, Ala. (BP)–Sending audiences into gales of laughter while putting on a show that Ringling Brothers would find hard to top is what Gestures of the Heart sets out to do.
A lovable troupe of ministering clowns from First Baptist Church, Trussville, Ala., Gestures of the Heart ministers to audiences both inside and outside the church.
Ministering clowns? How could a group of funny-looking, ridiculously dressed zanies do ministry?
While funny entertainment captures the audiences’ attention, it is the more serious moments in the routine that present the gospel and even bring tears to many eyes. The clowns work to captivate their audience and send the message of the gospel straight to the hearts of their listeners.
To Stan Forehand, known as “Slo-go” in the clown troupe, that is what clowning is all about.
He started clowning after attending the 1989 Rec Lab, a weeklong annual church recreation leaders’ conference sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, with his wife, Sherrie. Sherrie, who at the time was recreation director at Forest Lake Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, Ala., previously had been the recreation director at the Trussville church.
While at the conference, Stan decided the clowning classes would be a fun way to spend the whole week.
“I think I’d always wanted to be a clown,” Stan said. But little did he realize whose hand was guiding his decision.
Stan learned makeup, costuming, magic and juggling. He studied ways to organize a clown troupe and everything else he needed to know to start clowning as a ministry. By the first Sunday he and Sherrie were back at Forest Lake, Stan was promoting his vision for a clown troupe.
During the summer of 1989, Slo-go and two added partners went along as part of a missions group to Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. The troupe was warmly received visiting nursing homes, performing in the church and doing street ministry.
Then the Forehands moved back to Trussville and Stan immediately found an opening to add his clowning ministry to the discipleship training classes there.
Today clowning continues to be a part of the Sunday-night offerings at the church, and the troupe has grown to more than a dozen. One clown, Clydene Dyer (Lil’ Darlin), even takes time from her own church, New Life Baptist in Odenville, to work with the group. The other members are all congregants at First Baptist.
“We take clowning very seriously. I know that sounds strange, but we really do. There are specific guidelines about true clowning, as far as dress, behavior, everything,” Stan said.
The expense of clowning alone would be prohibitive to anyone who wasn’t serious about his or her mission. Each clown pays for professional costuming, makeup and wigs.
And whenever the troupe is invited to participate in a church service or any other event, the clowns go at their own expense. Forehand knows he is right where God wants him to be. “I believe I was called to do this — not teaching a Sunday school class or serving on a committee. We’re all part of his body,” Stan said.
And even within the troupe there are different personalities and ages. From 17 years old to verging on retirement, the group is as varied as their costumes and faces. “We’re a real mixed bag … yet God puts order into that,” Stan noted.
The troupe has participated in youth programs, at nursing homes, hospitals, schools, parades and other outdoor events. The group can be contacted at (205) 655-4112.
Bates is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist newsjournal.