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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Circus animals help spread the word




The Rev. Jim Lavender, who heads Discovery United Methodist Church in Richmond, smiles at kids Sunday from the inside of a menagerie of circus animals, including kangaroos in the background, brought to Christ United Methodist Church in Staunton. Lavender tours with the animals, using them to tell stories from the Bible and giving children's sermons. / Megan Williams/The News Leader
Jul 25, 2011
Written by
Megan Williams
STAUNTON — Two-year-old Aidyn Wright didn't know what to make of the kangaroo. Let alone the tiger or the lion.

"Do you like the kangaroo?" asked his dad, Paul Wright.

"Yes!"

"What about the tiger?"

Aidyn paused, looking around at the big cats and slowly nodded his head. "He's having a great time," Paul said.

More than a 100 people gathered in the parking lot of Christ United Methodist Church in Staunton, where a menagerie of circus animals not only entertained but also helped spread the word about the church's upcoming Vacation Bible School, which starts today.

In keeping with the theme for the weeklong camp, Big Jungle Adventures, Pastor Robert Edwards called up a friend from school who specializes in combining the ministry with the animal kingdom.

The Rev. Jim Lavender, a retired ringmaster for a number of traveling circuses, felt a call to ministry which ended his gig in the entertainment industry but gave him the idea of bringing the circus to the church.

He started Discovery United Methodist Church in Richmond, which houses retired circus animals and raises those that need a home. Now he travels the country giving sermons and telling stories from the Bible with the assistance of his four-legged friends.

"We thought community people would come out for the event and see that we're nice people and may be the church for them," said Loretta Duty , the church's education chairperson.

Pastor Edwards said he hoped the event would also encourage church and community members to get involved with Vacation Bible School.

For Lavender, the only dream bigger than becoming a ringmaster for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, turned out to be going into the ministry.

And he knows the best way to get children to remember lessons is by associating them with animals.

"Guaranteed," Edwards said. "It's so simple and guaranteed to make them remember."

On Sunday, he employed a handful of magic tricks and showed off his animals, which included a kangaroo, alpacas, goat, sheep, lion, tiger, rabbits, camels and donkeys, to speak on Christian themes and Bible stories.

A North American mountain lion, "Pockets" a feisty kangaroo and Joe the camel, who puckered up to pastor Edwards, entertained the crowd.

"This is fun for the kids and good for the adults as well," Duty said.

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