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Transforming the titter

by Rev. Jane Voigts

When I was a young girl one of the favorite things I discovered about going to church (which our family did every Sunday without fail) was laughing. Laughing that began right after the long sermon and just before the pastor launched into the long(er) “Pastoral Prayer.” Actually, silent giggling is what I did, and with my little sister, who by now was just as antsy as I was. Our giggling would grow with evermore intensity until we got to the point where we were afraid we might inadvertently discharge a guffaw to rip all the pious praying around us to shreds.

But, just in the nick of time, we’d receive a sharp pinch under the arm compliments of our parents, angrily wanting us to settle down and behave (i.e. get serious). Usually that did the trick and “let the air out of the balloon,” as it were. For at least a few seconds. Then the giggling, the almost-guffawing, and the pinching would start all over again. Until sometime down the line from the Pastor uttered “Amen.”.

Today I’m pastor of a United Methodist congregation in Toluca Lake that claims firstly and foremostly it’s a “Comedy Church.” While some may think a Comedy Church is actually a cleverly-titled new comedy club and others may assume we’re boasting some new “bait and switch” gimmick to bring newbies into our otherwise melancholy church doors, the truth is I’ve come to realize that laughter belongs in the church.

Humor is a major pathway for coming into an authentic relationship with the Divine, and the mission of the faithful should be to help others discover this truth. At the Comedy Church, there’s to be no pinching under the arm allowed, unless it’s you checking to see how much flabby tricep skin might flap if you raise your hand to volunteer for the improv game introducing the offering.

A Comedy Church is, I believe, a wholly legitimate approach to organized religion because laughter and spirituality are in many ways about the same thing. Both mysteriously bring body, mind and soul instantly to refreshing new life. Both bring healing and create a profound sense of community. Both engender (at least are supposed to engender) great joy.

And, for at least Judeo-Christian practitioners in the crowd, there’s the fact that our sacred text, the Bible, is primarily a document of comedy. For real! Check out Aristotle’s Poetics and its comparison of tragedy and comedy and see for yourself!!

At the Comedy Church we’re always exploring and experimenting with what it means to experience God through the ‘comedic lens’. We’ve been often inviting professional comics of all sorts (writers, stand-ups, clowns, improvisers) as “special guest stars” in worship, performing what they’d term their “spiritual material” as a part of or as the whole of the sermon.

We’ve been pursuing “mission projects” that heal our hurting world through comedy, laughter and play. For example, last summer we threw a big Christmas in July celebration at several nearby retirement facilities, and we’ve created several “Random Acts of Kindness” Scavenger Hunts where, with just a little bit of cash and an hour of time, small teams go out and see how much good they can do and joy they can share in an hour . . . and best adventure wins a prize! We just put a giant praying mantis on our front lawn to offer passing motorists lessons on prayer, natch.

It’s so interesting how life in the Spirit is so often about something we once were told to know as bad, dangerous, painful – even as we suspected it otherwise – eventually becoming the thing we proudly champion, dedicate our life to, and proclaim as a vehicle for changing the world. For me, it’s been about the transformation of the titter!

Ahem and Amen!!

Rev. Jane Voigts

About Rev. Jane Voigts

The Rev. Jane Voigts began her professional life as a stand-up comic and improvisor in Chicago, and since becoming an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church 16 years ago, she has had a passion for discovering new ways of connecting humor and faith. Last year she got to experiment with the creation of a "Comedy Church" in Toluca Lake. She is currently residing in Iowa to care for her parents. When asked about the future of the Church, she replies, "Big props!" She then adds, "And polyester pant suits. They have both male and female attributes and last forever. Like God."

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