ELWOOD — Ralph and Elmer are an over-sized, goofy-looking pair. After all, one’s orange and the other’s blue, and their hair sticks straight up. They sound kind of silly when they talk to each other, too.
But they wouldn’t have a word to say if it wasn’t for Pastor Roger Gardner standing between them. That’s because Pastor Gardner is the puppeteer that makes the two characters come alive.
Gardner, who serves as senior pastor at East Main Street Christian Church in Elwood, has been puppeteering for decades. He’s found that puppets are a great way to get his message across.
“People love singing puppets,” said Gardner.
This year, Gardner celebrates 20 years of the puppet ministry known as “Praise Puppets” at the Elwood church.
“We do shows any time people want them,” said Gardner. “We do a lot in the community…. We’ve puppeted all over.”
Gardner’s puppet team involves youth from sixth through 12th grade who actually man the puppets. Gardner teaches and directs the team, which currently has 11 puppeteers.
“I enjoy it. It’s kind of a hobby. It gives me a lot,” said Gardner. “A lot of senior pastors don’t get a chance to work with kids.”
The kids rehearse during the school year, September through May, on Sunday afternoons just prior to youth group. Kids joining the Praise Puppets for the first time go through a three-week puppeteering boot camp right up front. There, they learn the basics.
“It’s a lot of fun but it’s also a lot of work. It’s not that easy to do it well,” said Gardner. The puppeteering pastor first learned the art himself when he was in high school. He later attended some workshops to learn to do it well.