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Rachel Parkinson, Superintendent Minister, writes:
At the Greenbelt Christian Arts Festival in 2012 I saw a twelve foot tall angel. Gabriel was wandering around the festival site accompanied by a giant-sized Mary, Joseph and Wise Man. My immediate thought was: “we could make those”. And it turned out that we could….and we have!
The dream of making a set of giant nativity puppets to tell the story of Jesus’ birth at outdoor events quickly became a shared one. We linked with Ruth Joy, the art and spirituality worker at Bishop St Methodist Church in Town Hall Square—so the project became one shared across Birstall and Leicester City Centre. Churches Together in Birstall and Wanlip were, at the time, looking for a different way of working together other than the usual round of united services. This project came at the right time—involving Catholics, Anglicans and Methodist churches. But most importantly, we wanted to share the creation of the puppets with our wider community—particularly with children and young people.
The first step was to meet the people who’d made the puppets I’d seen at Greenbelt. They are a church-affiliated group called “In Another Place”. That meant 5 of us going up to Crosby near Liverpool last February, but it was worth the journey. Not only did we learn the skills of puppet making but the people we met were bubbling over with energy, enthusiasm and possibility.
And then the making began. The puppet heads and hands are made from papier maché and there are lots of aspects to making their clothes and accessories. We’ve worked with fifteen different local groups over the last few months. This has included church groups such as the Girls Brigade and Pre-School and also many groups outside the church such as local primary schools and the Birstall Youth Café. It’s given us hours of opportunity for conversation and positive relationship building. Tribute must be paid to John Towson and Sylvia Taylor of BMC. Since catching the vision in Crosby they have spent very many hours, with others, underpinning the creation. Sylvia and her team sewed the puppets undergarments and John has done all the work on making the frames together with a great many other things.
The next step was finding a puppet cast. To our great delight we have a cast of seven young people aged between 15 and 19. As well as general wandering around, the puppets will act out a nativity play against a soundtrack previously recorded. Rachel Wheeler, of BMC, returned home from studying theatre in London just in time to become our director.
And so next is the scary bit. Our first performance is at the Leicester Lights Switch-On outside the Town Hall on Sunday Nov 16th. We’re doing a puppet procession to the Clock Tower around 3pm and then performing the nativity play at 3.30pm. The potential crowd for our first performance could be huge! After that we’re appearing at the Birstall Lights Switch-On; taking part in Leicester Cathedral Christingle and doing an open-air performance on the new housing estate in Birstall. At each of these we’ll be handing out leaflets with a simple blessing for peace, joy, hope and love.
Whatever happens, we’ve had a lot of fun and laughter along the way. And I rather hope that we’ll help make some new friends for Jesus through this rather crazy way of celebrating his birthday.
To see a more detailed blog about the puppets go to www.artatthechapel.com and look under "Giant Puppets" category