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    United Methodists of Upper New YorkLiving the Gospel. Being God's Love.

    news article

    Attracting young families to church with puppets

    June 1, 2022 / By Shannon Hodson / .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Editor's Note: This article originally arreared in the 2022 Issue I of the Advocate, which focused on children and youth. 

    Spark, Goldie, Jimmy, Samuel, and “Big E” are responsible for growing the children’s ministry at Saranac Lake First United Methodist Church. These individuals are “The Not So Perfect” puppets, and “Big E” is Saranac Lake First UMC pastor, the Rev. Eric Olsen.

    Rev. Olsen was ordained by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1988. In 1992, he left parish ministry to work as an active-duty Army Chaplain, serving tours in South Carolina, Germany, Egypt, and Fort Drum, before transitioning to the New York National Guard in 1999.  Following 9/11, Rev. Olsen served extensively at Ground Zero and spent a tour in Iraq. Rev. Olsen retired from the Army in October 2013 and now serves as pastor for the First United Methodist Church of Saranac Lake, the Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity, and the New York State Department of Corrections.

    So how did an Army Chaplain get involved with puppets?

    “I actually learned about the ministry of puppetry in seminary,” said Rev. Olsen.

    And now, dozens of years later, he has a thriving puppet ministry at Saranac Lake First UMC.

    Rev. Olsen was appointed to Saranac Lake First in 2018. When he asked the church council what their mission was, they said, “We want to invite and encourage young families to join the church.”

    Rev. Olsen said, “We started praying on this…and what transpired is amazing. Within a couple months, an individual (Jerry Manning) started coming to church and said that he was a puppeteer. And then the idea came to me; ‘Let’s start a puppet ministry.’”

    The congregation, who Rev. Olsen describes as “White-mountain folk,” primarily in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, were enthusiastic about this idea.

    Members designed a portable set that is used in the sanctuary as well as in the streets for local festivals.

    And a cast of puppets was created.

    Jerry took on the voice of Jimmy.

    Rev. Olsen’s wife, Susan, is the voice of Goldie.

    And other members took on the voices of the other puppets.

    Using a puppet show as the focal point, Saranac First UMC calls the fourth Sunday of every month, “Children’s Sunday.”

    Rev. Olsen described this special monthly service:

    “We all gather and then I begin the service by taking out my guitar; we sing a couple songs; then we do 1-2 skits. The kids then go downstairs for Sunday school, and I give a sermon for the adults, then the kids come back for more skits.”

    Rev. Olsen chuckled, “The adults actually love the skits as much as the kids do.”

    He continued, “The skit writing started out with just a couple people in the room and now we’ve incorporated several members to help write the scripts. It’s great because it helps us to see through the eyes of a child and honestly some of the struggles of children are like struggles that we have at 65.”

    Some skits involve questions or concerns the puppet characters have and they seek wisdom or advice from Big E. Some skits zero in on Bible lessons.

    For example, using the Good Samaritan parable from Luke: 10, Big E tells Jimmy that they are going to do a play and that he gets to play a bad guy. He tells Jimmy to get a “bad guy” mask on. He then tells Samuel that he will be a traveler who is assaulted by Jimmy. And that he needs to lean into the wall as though he has been hurt.

    Next, Big E. tells Goldie that she has to see Samuel and not help him. She complains, saying “But I want to help him.” And Big E tells her that he knows that’s the right thing to do but, in this play, Goldie needs to act as though she doesn’t care.

    Goldie then gets argumentative and explains how Jesus says that we should help people who are hurt. Big E says to the audience that it looks like he needs to recast the parts. He tells the kids that they will be able to see the story acted out once the recasting takes place and encourages them to have their parents read Luke chapter 10 to them.

    Children’s Sundays began attracting families and up to 20 kids each time.

    Then, the COVID pandemic hit. Fortunately, an acclaimed videographer is a member of the congregation and agreed to tape the skits, which are posted on YouTube and to the Saranac First UMC’s Facebook page.

    The Not So Perfect Puppets skits can now be viewed by children all over the world. Rev. Olsen plans to continue having them taped even once the pandemic dies down and people feel safe bringing their children back to church.

    To watch some of the Not So Perfect Puppets skits, visit

    TAGGED / Advocate

    With more than 100,000 members, United Methodists of Upper New York comprises of more than 675 local churches and New Faith Communities in 12 districts, covering 48,000 square miles in 49 of the 62 counties in New York state. Our vision is to “live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places."