CICERO — Trish Pompei, director of religious education for Sacred Heart Church, saw the need to work with middle school aged children in a more interactive way. So she decided to bring puppets to entertain and teach students about God. “I have over 1,100 students in the religious education program and I had to decide what group could best benefit from a change. The sixth through eighth graders are always a hard group to reach. They end up in a classroom, reading from the Bible and can become bored and that doesn’t help them grow in their faith,” Pompei said. “This year, we decided to try guest speakers and to bring groups in to show them that church is fun.”
Pompei arranged for a local puppet troupe, Puppets InChrist, to come to the parish to entertain while teaching the sixth through eighth graders about the importance of God. “I’m always telling them that Jesus liked to have a good time too. It’s not always serious stuff,” said Pompei. “Religious education should be multi-faceted — not just doing things one way. Everyone has been really excited about this show. They have been talking about it for a long time.”
Puppets InChrist, based in Syracuse, is an ecumenical ministry traveling across the country spreading the Good News. Over the last 10 years, they have collected hundreds of puppets for use in productions. Founded by Rachel Doyle and her husband Jim, Puppets InChrist continues to grow and develop.
“After attending a puppet workshop in 1992, we caught puppet fever. We started collecting puppets. We started with eight and now we have over 300 different puppets to choose from. We also have 12 life-sized puppets as well, which are basically costumes,” Doyle said. “Our busiest time is during the summer when we perform almost every day. We are currently working and auditioning for our summer production. This is an ecumenical ministry — we all believe in the same God. We enjoy working with the kids.”
Doyle said Puppets InChrist is always looking for young people to work with the puppets. “Some of the kids have been here for three, four, or five years. This is a place where kids who don’t fit in anywhere else feel safe,” she said. “You would never believe the growth in some of these kids. We build their confidence and their self-esteem.” The program began with an interactive song. Students got off the bleachers in the gym, clapped their hands and moved around. During a rendition of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” the puppets joined in. The students, their parents and catechists, were on their feet, which set the tone for the performance.
After the song, the puppets told a story about Amanda, a girl unsure about religion. Amanda’s friends had their own relationship with God and they were encouraging Amanda to consider one herself. “To praise the Lord, you have to know who He is,” one of the puppets said. Dancing flowers came from behind the curtain and sang a song with the refrain “There is only one almighty God.”
Between portions of the story, Doyle asked the students questions about the previous segment of the show. Much to Pompei’s delight, students were excited about participating in the puppet show. The story continued with Amanda making a decision to have a relationship with God. Amanda’s friends sung a song “I’d like to introduce you to my best friend.…I know him well and I talk to him every day.” The puppets sang and danced behind the curtain. Placards were used in the background with words to prompt the students to sing along.
As the story concluded, Amanda’s friends said that God sent Jesus “to rescue us, and I don’t mean 911, but to rescue us forever.” The story ended with the song “Jesus, live in me” with the refrain, “Jesus, live in me, Jesus, I believe, new creation, your salvation, the dwelling place I need. Jesus, live in me.” “If you let Jesus into your heart, He will be your savior,” Doyle said. “But that’s the choice that you all have to make.” Pompei said she hoped students got the message of God’s love for them.
Jennifer Desmarais, a sixth grade student in the religious education program at Sacred Heart, said the show was “great and really gave a good message about God.”
Seventh grader Ron Ziemba said the message was well received. “It expressed it well, but I think it would have been better for younger grades, but it was pretty funny,” Ron said. Mike Mirizio, a fifth grader, said the show was “good and entertaining.”
Sixth grader Erin Parente said the puppets “got people to sing.” Another sixth grader, Chelsea Morris, said, “I liked it. The puppets were really cool.”
For more information about Puppets InChrist, call Rachel or Jim Doyle at (315) 433-1042 or visit their website puppetsinchrist.50megs.com.