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Puppet ministry reunites to celebrate 25th anniversary

Jeannette Thompson began the Happiness Puppet ministry at Antioch East Baptist Church 25 years ago, and later this month past puppeteers will reunited for one night only.

Looking back, Thompson said she began the program to give the youth of the church something to do.

&uot;We began the ministry for the church’s youth,&uot; she said.

&uot;It was and is a good program for them.

The puppeteers travel from town to town putting on shows.&uot;

The number of teens involved in the ministry varies from year to year.

Thompson said one year she had about 22 young people taking part in the program.

The people who have been involved through the years take their program quite seriously.

Thompson said the program is only open to students in the seventh through 12th grades.

She said once they graduate from high school, their roles change.

&uot;They can come back and work as technicians,&uot; she said.

‘But once they finish high school, they can no longer be puppeteers.&uot;

Also, the group rehearses each Wednesday night and also the afternoon on the day of a show. Puppeteers also attend workshops and seminars to give each show a professional grade look.

Thompson said it takes a great deal of dedication and for 25 years, the youth of Antioch East has shown tremendous dedication.

Also, the puppets are your run-of-the-mill puppets, but are professionally made at a location in California. There is also a woman in Alabama who makes the professional grade puppets.

Thompson said the ministry is not simply for its home church and is often invited to other churches in many areas.

&uot;They are on the road to other churches,&uot; she said.

&uot;Anybody that invites them, they go.

They usually do about one show a month.&uot;

About six years ago, Thompson gave up the puppet ministry to care for her mother.

She left the program in the capable hands of Ricky and Helen Johnson, who saw their role with the church’s youth expand.

&uot;Whenever she asked us to get involved we were already the youth Sunday school teachers,&uot; Helen Johnson said. &uot;She worked with us and taught us what we needed to do.&uot;

She said there have been periods where interest would wane, but then God would provide another group who would show an interest.

&uot;You go through a lapse where you don’t have anyone interested in it,&uot; she said. &uot;Those are the times when you have to start over and trust in God.

He has always provided us with willing young people.&uot;

She said since it takes intense concentration and teamwork, the youth learn the importance of working with others.

She said they don’t often see the rewards, but they are great.

&uot;It is tough for them to get behind the screen and work in close quarters with each other,&uot; she said. &uot;But the result is amazing and it is a great ministry for our church.

There have been countless people who have got a blessing from one of our shows.&uot;

Johnson said the puppeteers visit a puppet festival held each year at Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church in Montgomery.

She said the puppeteers have won a few gold medals for their work.

She said the lessons learned during the ministry and the relationships formed often last long after they leave the program.

She pointed out that one couple that met working in the puppet ministry is now married and their daughters now work as puppeteers.

Johnson said Thompson created something very special and she and her husband find it quite rewarding to continue the program.

She also said she gets to see the audience’s reaction and that adds to their blessings.

&uot;The puppeteers don’t get to the expressions in the audience,&uot; she said.

&uot;Ricky and I do and it amazes us to see the expressions.&uot;

Thompson said now that 25 years have passed many of the puppeteers and technicians of the past are returning for a Happiness reunion.

About 40 have said they would attend the special performance on July 18, 2004 at 6:30 p.m. at the church.

Thompson, whose own children took part as puppeteers, wills likely be like a proud mother that night, watching the ministry she began 25 years ago, come of age.

&uot;I’m proud of it because it a really good, strong ministry,&uot; Thompson said. &uot;Through the years, we have helped many people with it and that’s what is important.&uot;

This show is free and open to the public.

For more information, contact Leigh Duke at 383-0801, Thompson at 382-3396 or Johnson at 227-8987.

The church is located at 2303 Old Stage Road.

The church’s number is 382-6828.