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  Catherine Kapikian



7’ x 3 1/2’


In 1975, I entered Wesley Theological Seminary as a working artist seeking theological literacy. Four years later, on April 1, one month before graduation, I attended weekly chapel. To my horror, two very fat clowns were galloping up and down the center aisle on hobbyhorses. As worship unfolded, their antic gestures led to applying a bold swipe of lipstick on random congregants. I rose abruptly and left. My deeply held Episcopalian conviction about the dignity of worship was disrupted. I remember thinking, “have I spent the last four years of my life for this?” All I could do was make this 7’ x 3 1/2’ fiber clown.

In the following fall, I returned to the seminary as an invited artist-in-residence to the faculty. I brought the clown with me and hung him on the studio wall opposing its double door entrance. Shortly thereafter, I noticed a uniformed Army chaplain who predictably would show up and linger at the entrance every Wednesday morning. One day he finally entered. “I have a clown ministry at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center on the Pediatric Oncology Ward. I wonder if we might borrow that clown.”

Months later at the installation service on this ward, an eleven year old leukemia victim tethered to a portable I.V. bottle clung to me. In a loud voice she announced, “I’m going to name him Charlie.”

Charlie became the medium for ministry. Traumatized children who could not speak, spoke through Charlie, while he endured the indignity of pretend needle punctures, chemotherapy, anesthesia, and surgery.

Charlie, in his new setting, ministered to me too. For decades I have struggled with feelings of fear and impotence brought on by my memories of stories and encounters in radiology departments with my medical doctor father, a cancer specialist. While it might have been smarter after that April Chapel Service to study the analytical concepts undergirding clown ministry, I sought instead a creative artistic response admittedly cathartic in process. Charlie, created out of rebellion, has brought me full circle. Now I mentor, as a seminary faculty member, an occasional student in clown ministry! And a few of my fears have subsided.

Catherine Kapikian

email: cKapikian@wesleysem.edu



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©2004 The Episcopal Church and Visual Arts