LVHN COMMUNITY PARTNER
As a youth growing up in Orefield, Robert Schantz never dreamed clowning around was in his future.
He wasn’t the class clown and he does not recall any of his teachers in the Parkland School District ever telling him to stop clowning around.
But as an adult, retired art teacher Schantz, now living in Lower Macungie Township, has spent more than three decades entertaining, amusing and teaching religious lessons through his persona as Chump the Clown.
Schantz has been attending Jordan United Church of Christ, South Whitehall, since he was 2 years old.
He has volunteered in every spot at the church where there was a need.
Through it all, Schantz wove his Kutztown University degree into his volunteer activities and the church’s rotating seasonal theme settings.
In 1980, a new opportunity arose, and with it Chump the Clown was born.
A church volunteer attended a conference promoting ways to bring the arts into worship services. Included was a session on how to begin a church clown ministry.
The idea gained immediate traction at Jordan UCC, and Schantz was one of four or five adults, and later several teens, who volunteered to learn how to apply clown makeup, design costumes and use pantomime techniques to teach Bible life lessons to youthful and established church audiences.
“Clowns in a church ministry never talk but we become adept at being mute and using facial expressions, body motion, signage and props to get our message across,” Schantz explained.
In a typical performance, clown ministry participants begin in everyday street clothes, then apply makeup and get into costume, while congregants watch the transformation.
“We knew that some youngsters, and even adults, can be fearful and skeptical of persons made up as clowns,” Schantz said.
“We took it slow and easy so we did not just spring our clown personas on our audience.”
In the world of clowning, makeup levels can be elaborate.
The level used by Schantz and his clown ministry companions is labeled the “august” look. It is the simplest to apply and employs cheek spots of white, red and black and a lip application.
“Even the colors we applied had significance,” Schantz explained. “Our white makeup represents Christ’s death and the red depicts new life.”
Schantz’s most memorable clown skit revolved around a Biblical changed heart parable.
He was designated as the bully clown who disrupted other clowns involved in playful activities.
“The other clowns loved me out of my bullying ways,” Schantz said. “They gave me an injection and pulled slips of paper labeled bully, anger, jealousy and resentment out of my heart area and replaced them with labels of love, caring and helpfulness. They gave me a changed heart.”
To this day, Schantz looks back at that lesson as the most life-changing pantomime he ever participated in as Chump the Clown.
Schantz’s clown name came from a youth group member who had it on the tip of her tongue when he asked for naming help.
Schantz learned years later his father had the nickname “Chump” as he was growing up and his father just took it for granted his son picked that name for his clown.
His wife, Cheryl, has been a very supportive partner throughout his clown ministry. While she participated as a clown in the early portion of the ministry, she had to drop back because of allergic reactions to the makeup.
“She is always there, though, whenever we need costuming or background setting assistance, or to drive me home after a tiring performance.”
Youth church programming has changed in recent years with teen participation being the main driver and that has led to the clown ministry giving way to the new direction, Schantz said.
He has continued employing Chump at birthday celebrations, nursing home visits and other venues where he can add joy to a gathering.
Even though the clown ministry does not have the influence it had years ago, Schantz said he still has the clown in him.
“I pull out the greasepaint makeup kit when the Schnecksville Fair and a few other festivals roll around each year,” he said.
“When I get made up as Chump the Clown, I become that persona, and bringing joy to people gives me unspeakable satisfaction.”
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