FORT WORTH, Texas--()--What do scraps of fabric, found household objects, and witty repartee have to do with the Bible — and tapping into the hearts and imaginations of children of all ages to convey serious life lessons with a dose of playful humor?
“We want people to see that many of the things which would otherwise end up in landfills can have great potential.”
Step with us for a moment into the mind of Mark Burrows, Director of Children’s Ministries at First United Methodist Church Fort Worth. His brainchild, the Threadbare Puppet Theatre has gained national attention, as has its sibling, FUMC Fort Worth’s cutting edge children’s ministry programming known simply as “Children First.”
“The Threadbare Puppet Theatre came about in 2006 after a lifetime of enthusiasm over puppetry that could no longer be contained,” Burrows says. “And, because an imaginative puppeteer can do more with a wooden spoon than others can do with an elaborate store-bought puppet, we decided to make our puppets out of what most people would call 'junk,' employ questionable sewing ability, and use our puppets to help express thoughts, tell stories and evoke insights. And, with the visible 'flaws' in our puppets’ appearance as springboards, we are able to help our audiences explore their own 'threadbare' patches us just a part of the beauty of being human.”
One regular venue for Threadbare Puppet Theatre, Children First worship service at First United Methodist Church Fort Worth, launched its programming in 2008 with its first Sunday of every month services held in the 140-seat Leonard Memorial Chapel (FUMC Fort Worth’s smallest venue), Children First quickly outgrew its original home and was moved to the larger 250-seat Wesley Hall, which this lively service also outgrew within nine months.
Today, Children First fills the main sanctuary of this Downtown Methodist church on the first Sunday of every month, and attendance just keeps on growing, as does the proliferation of dozens of Methodist churches nationwide now implementing the Children First model in their own children’s ministries. “It’s amazing to see the Children First model pop up all over the country,” Burrows says. “Leave it to children to bring all of us back to the sense of wonder we all crave. Children, with all their openness and energy, remind us that the prayerful and the playful are not opposites.”
What’s the magic? Maybe it’s the quirky genius of Burrows, an award-winning singer/songwriter for children and families. A former music teacher and Teacher of the Year, Burrows writes music and curriculum for numerous publishers, most recently including The Lorenz Corporation. His Gettin' Down with Mama Goose series tops many best-seller lists. His albums You’ve Got a Song and Go Ape! can be heard on radio stations coast-to-coast, including XM Kids Channel 116. One song, "Amazon Rock," is featured on the Dora, Diego, and Friends album Animal Jamboree, produced by Nick Records.
Or maybe it’s just an idea whose time has come, an answer to families searching for ways to get back to church. Since taking over the post in 2011 as FUMC Director of Children’s Ministries, Burrows has put his heart and focus completely into programming for children that truly does put Children First in how entire congregations “do church” for their youngest members.
And nowhere is this more evident than with the Threadbare Theatre. Featuring the amazing comedic talent of local actress Shannon McGrann as the edgy “Lorraine” and Ed Landwehr, who works his own puppetry magic as Lorraine’s buddy, “Wendell,” the Threadbare cast has grown to encompass a wider range of characters than Burrows himself imagined possible — all with their own story of reclamation to tell.
"Every puppet, prop, and set piece is made from repurposed material," Burrows says. "We want people to see that many of the things which would otherwise end up in landfills can have great potential."
The Threadbare Puppets will be major contributors to the live streaming December 2 Children First service with their sassy-yet-poignant presentation of “A Threadbare Christmas Carol,” starring “Lorraine” as Ebby Scrooge, “Wendell” as Bob Cratchett, and featuring several other Threadbare favorites. (Click here to view a threadbare audition.) This humorous and unforgettable retelling of the Charles Dickens classic offers a great way for families to worship together as the season of Advent begins.