One of my coworkers was talking about doing puppets at her church, and I was reminded of my own experience with puppets.
When I was about 14, I volunteered to be backstage help with a specific children’s church puppet program at the church I was in. I didn’t work the puppets, but I basically helped direct everything backstage. We had quite the elaborate setup, so we actually helped the actors out quite a bit as they transitioned from doing their people characters on the stage and then coming backstage to take over doing puppet characters. I loved doing it, it was very rewarding work. I did it for two years, giving me some nice backstage experience.
By the time I was 16, I was in another church that was even more conservative than the previous one. It was actually a lot closer to the Baptist churches I had grown up in. My mother signed up to do an age segment of VBS one year, and between us we decided that I would do a puppet opposite to her to help with the lesson. I wrote the scripts myself based off of the lessons she had, got a tiny stage setup done, and we were good to go! I actually used a Hush Puppy puppet that I still had from childhood and christened him “Norman Kaddidleski”. It was such a rousing success that at the end of the week, we had all the age groups get together to enjoy the puppet show.
The next year, Norman was a given, he had been such a hit. They actually ended up combining the age groups for the lesson time so everyone could enjoy him, and he got a proper stage set up in the front of the church. It was great fun. I enjoyed writing the scripts and performing for the kids. There was a time where I even considered if this was possibly my calling in life, to put on puppet shows for children that put a comedic spin on a righteous message. I really sold myself on it, too.
Unfortunately, things unraveled. I started having some spiritual issues here and there, though none I specifically disclosed to anyone aside from counselors at a leadership camp I attended. However, after I returned from that camp for the last time (I was at the max age), it seemed that my church treated me differently. Despite his popularity, Norman was never brought back for VBS or anything else. I was somewhat distraught, as I had very much enjoyed it and I knew that the children and even the adults enjoyed it. I suspect that someone from the camp had corresponded with my pastor (since they had his information, as I had to have a letter of recommendation from him to attend) and that led to me not being able to participate in something that had been particularly fulfilling to me. I think that’s one thing about fundamental Christianity that I really dislike: if there are any perceived weaknesses, instead of offering real help and support, the person is punished and restricted until they “get right”. It makes going through things like depression and anxiety a real shame, at least where I was, because it was a sign of spiritual weakness. Sure, I had issues with depression and I had questions, but was that any reason to bar me from an activity that I enjoyed and that also brought joy to others?
Nowadays, of course, I’m glad that the whole Christian puppetry thing didn’t work out, seeing as I’m not a Christian anymore, which would make things rather awkward. But I still wish that my season of puppetry had ended on a better note than it did.