Jane Gunter serves God through a clown ministry. She is a member of Clowns of Idaho, and she has many clown costumes, as well as puppets that she likes to use when she is entertaining people of all ages. (Photo by Gaye Bunderson)
By Gaye Bunderson
Have you ever thought of clowning as an act of service to the Lord? Well, Jane Gunter of Boise has, and she believes that by ‘clowning around’, she’s serving God. In fact, her sense of using clowning as ministry started at church one day.
The pastor’s message was on “Finding Your Calcutta.” In other words, if you can’t serve the poorest of the poor like Mother Teresa, what else can you do to serve God and humanity? “I wanted to have some way to serve the Lord and when I heard the sermon on ‘Finding Your Calcutta’, I thought, ‘I’ve found my Calcutta. I can serve the Lord through a clown ministry’.” Jane, who is 80, had been on a year’s leave of absence from clowning, but she knew it was time to return.
She first learned clowning in Yuma, Ariz., where she and her husband Jay were snowbirds during the winter months. When they made their home in Boise approximately six years ago, she eventually contacted a local clowning group, Idaho Gem Jesters, before becoming actively involved with Clowns of Idaho.
With her interest in clowning newly revived, she was only temporarily thrown off course by the pandemic. She and other members of Clowns of Idaho performed “window events” – as Jane calls them – at nursing homes. “People were stuck in there; they couldn’t have any visitors, they were just locked in like prisoners,” Jane said. Costumes went on and spirits went up, as the clowns entertained the seniors outside the nursing home windows.
“That was so fulfilling for us,” said Jane.
Their venues have broadened out now that many people have received the vaccine. They’ve done parades, kids’ expos, Meridian Dairy Days, and birthday parties – and Jane, the oldest member of the group, was right along with all the others. They’ve also entertained at City Light Home for Women and Children and the Boise Rescue Mission. It’s all about bringing smiles to faces.
“It’s about making people laugh,” said Jane. “If you’re dressed up like a clown and you walk into a room, people’s faces light up. You see that and you do a ‘walk-around’. You make people feel good, and that’s the motivation.”
Come to think of it, what better way could there be to serve your fellow man?
Fellow Clowns of Idaho member Charlye Hahn agrees that clowning can be service. “Yes, I also feel that it is a ministry,” she said. “I did children’s ministry for our church and we would do a once a month skit. I was a clown named Mrs. Goodword, and I reminded the children in a fun way of the Word of God. Clowning with the Clowns of Idaho is, for me, an extension of the ministry in that I get to remind the public to not worry for a little while.
“My clown name when I am not doing children’s ministry is Ima Tri N, as in Ima Tri N to make you laugh. I brought Mrs. Goodword out of retirement for when I get to clown at church and if I get other opportunities.”
The clowns do face painting and balloon sculptures. “Or you can pick your own skill you’re best at,” Jane said. She added puppets and dolls to her routine. She has a puppet squirrel named Nutsy, as well as a cute kitten puppet that emerges from a small basket with a timid glance around the room.
If the kids love it and the seniors love it, what about the people in between? “Teenagers want you to scare their friends,” Jane replied with a laugh. But the clowns prefer not to scare anyone. They even do a church family fun night and tell parents in advance that clowns will be showing up, just in case their little ones might be frightened.
Jane is also teaching her 3½-year-old little dog Mochi – a real dog, not a puppet – to do some tricks so he can join in the performances.
Asked where all the clown costumes come from, Jane said, “There are lots of ways to get our costumes: out of our own closets, at thrift shops, the Youth Ranch, and sometimes clowns who retire or leave, leave their outfits for us. I have a closet full of costumes.”
And she uses them all, not limiting herself to just one clown character but taking on many a clown persona for others’ entertainment. “I always loved performing,” she said.
There are about 20 local members of Clowns of Idaho. Some come and go, but there are roughly 8 to 12 members in the core group. They hold meetings and learn something about clowning each month. It could be how to write and perform a script or how to apply clown makeup. Jane said the meetings inevitably start out with laughter.
Group officers are known as Boss Clown (the top leader), Coin Clinker (the treasurer), and Pencil Pusher (the secretary).
The clowns have their fans, and Jane said her own biggest fan is her husband Jay. “He’s my best supporter,” she said.
Jane likes to attend clown conventions and has been to a Clowns of America-International event and a World Clown Association program. She has studied online with Pricilla Mooseburger at mooseburger.com. She takes her clowning seriously but obviously with enough joy to share it with others. What a noble act of service to give to God.