The Greatest Show on Earth

Circus Intergenerational Worship Service

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Ring Master
2 Magicians
Animal Tamer
3 lions
5 elephants
Children’s choir


Elephant costumes are made with coat hangers and grey cloth (ears) and with wrapping paper tubes sliced 80% through in concentric circles along one side (so that it droops when you hold it at one end) painted grey (nose)

Lion costumes are made by taking orange fur material cut in strips and tied to a 30 inch string. This is wrapped around the face to make a mane. The same material is cut into triangles, attached to card board backing and glued to a barrette (ears).

The mime and Giovanni have painted faces and whatever clown attire is available.

The buffoon is dressed as a hobo with, perhaps, a little makeup.

The minstrel is in tights with a very colorful shirt.

The ring master has a vest (preferably red) and a top hat.

Magicians are in black and white.

Lion Tamer is dressed in red with, perhaps, some time of blazer.

The congregation is seated in circular format with the center being the primary worship space. There is a small space at one end of the circle where there is a small stage. On the stage is the children’s choir.

PRELUDE Circus Polka Stravinsky


Ring Master:

Step right up, step right up... Be amazed, be enchanted, be mystified, be amused.... For this morning you will see every creature ever imagined by your mind and heart. Some will make you laugh. With some you will cry. But it is our hope that these talented and tenderhearted performers will grant you passage to the greatest depths of your own soul. In them we will be reminded of our own many faces. Our happy faces with painted smiles. Our sad faces with stubborn frowns. Faces of hope. Faces of fear. Faces of child-like joy. Faces that show our years. This morning we wish to present the great clowns of life. Not Ringling Bros. or other famous clowns. But those clowns who are in your life. Who you work with. Who are at home. Who are sitting next to you right now. For it is the clowns that often show us how deeply, and how varied, it feels to be part of this great, big wonderful circus called life.

(Mime fumbles with matches up by the chalice and lights the chalice as Muse speaks)
Lord of laughter
Lady of love
Source of Life
We light this Chalice in celebration of your call
To show our face
whether happy or sad
to be part of the extravaganza
and to Savor our participation with loving laughter

Ring Master:
Ladies and Gentlemen, girls and boys, children of all ages.... Welcome to the Unitarian Universalist fantazmical flying circus. If you are new, there will be an orientation 10 minutes after the service in the front of the sanctuary... If you are new, you’ll need it....

SONG 368 Now Let Us Sing
Sing to the power of the child within
Sing to the power of the clown within
Sing to the power of the joy within

(Reads from large scroll)
I’m very good at celebrating, Lord.
Have you noticed?
My soul can fly so high above the world.
I could play in a field of clouds
And nestle like a child in the comfort of your grace.

I can laugh with delight at your miracles
Sing to the sunset
Dance ‘til sunrise
Whistle in the sunshine or the shadows of the day
But at other times
when the pendulum swings
And darkness is on the face of my world
Then lady,
Please come...
And teach me how to celebrate

(Music is played in circus fashion and all the performers process in order. As they come in, they stop in front of the Ring Master, take a bow toward the congregation and then move toward their places.)
Clowns (Mime and Giovanni) [behind the Ring Master]
buffoon [behind the Ring Master]
Animal tamer (twirling her stick with a long silk sash tied to it like a "whip") [Northwest corner]
The magicians [Southeast corner]
The lions (process in growling and clawing) [Northeast corner]
The elephants [Southwest corner]

(Lions are first to perform. Ring Master introduces...)

Ring Master:
Tremble ladies and gentlemen. Hold your children tight. Here come the ferocious Lords of the Jungle."

(Animal tamer runs over waving her sash/whip. Lions are lined up in a row. Tamer motions up and the lions sit up on their hind legs. Tamer motions down and the lions go down. Tamer motions left and they roll over to the left. Tamer motions right and the lions roll over to the right. Finally, Tamer holds up a hoop and twirls her sash/whip and the lions jump through the hoop. All of this takes about 2 minutes)

(Magicians are next. Ring Master introduces...)

Ring Master:
Magic that will mystify and amaze
(Magicians come out singing their silly "performance song" One of the magicians holds up two or three fingers. The other magician passes a handkerchief over them and "makes them disappear." Then one magician holds two fingers and the other magician holds up a cardboard box and the first magician slams his hand against one end of the box and "makes the fingers travel through the box to the hand on the other side." Finally the two magicians end up "throwing fingers across the room using a drum roll from the audience. The magicians are filled with self congratulations and take turns pulling the other out of the way so that they can bow in front. Whole thing takes 3 minutes.)

(Elephants are last. Ring Master introduces...)

Ring Master:
And now, the powerful pachyderms.

elephant.gif (6692 bytes)

(Animal tamer runs over twirling her sash/whip. Twirls the sash and has the elephants stand on hind legs. Twirls again and has the elephants get down. Finally has the elephants get into a pyramid. The smallest elephant is helped up to the top by the Ring Master. Animal tamer bows. This takes 3 minutes.)

FAMILY CHOIR "Eletelephony"


(buffoon barges in with the clowns and begins to explain about the history and the origins of clowning.)


The etymology of the word "clown" is uncertain. Some say it is a Scandinavian word meaning "clod." Some say clown comes from the middle English word "cloune." It meant an awkward, clumsy, boorish fellow.... a lout!


(Clowns push buffoon aside and go into a minute long mime routine. When they are finished, the buffoon begins talking again.)


(Spoken as the two clowns are behind the buffoon and mocking him/her)

As I was saying, this character, this clown, this fool, this boorish bafoon is every present. The white face of the clown has been present in almost every culture as a symbol of death. Placing makeup over the white face is a way to create a character that assumes a new kind of life. Thus the clown becomes a symbol of death and rebirth. And moreover....

(buffoon sticks one finger in the air, making a point as both clowns rush out and throw glitter at him/her. buffoon freezes and the clowns pose buffoon into different shapes and make buffoon act like different animals - howling like a dog, strutting like a rooster, quacking like a duck etc. buffoon finally breaks free and begins talking)


(clowns begin mocking again, but are also listening and begin empathizing with what she says - getting happy and sad)

As I was saying before I was so rudely and crudely interrupted by this... this.... clown! When we laugh at a clown, we are usually laughing at ourselves because clowns are only exaggerated versions of our different characteristics. As well as laugh they can make us cry at ourselves because they reflect our foibles and our faults, our frailties and our failings...

(Clowns begin to cry and cry together and then put their arms around the buffoon causing him/her to start crying during the end of speech. They all sit down together, crying, passing around a colorful handkerchief and taking turns blowing their nose loudly. Music starts for Gaudeamus)

SONG 390 Gaudeamus (Which means "let us be joyful today")

(Reading from large Scroll)
I’m very good at celebrating, my Lady.
I know you have noticed how sometimes
the voice within my soul bursts forth
and fills the air with praise
and how most of the time my feet just keep tapping away.
But at other times when calamity pursues me
my own courage flees
and I freeze like a startled flea
Then Lord,
Please come
And teach me how to celebrate.


Ring Master:
Whether you carry with you, this morning, celebration or sorrow, under this big top their are other clowns who understand, and care. We will now share this communities concerns....
(As someone sings "Send in the Clowns" - which is serious - the two clowns watch from behind the performer and are visibly drawn to performer. They creep closer until they embrace performer from behind on the last lines of the song, "... don’t bother, they’re here.")

Up and down and round and round and
Up and down and round and round and
Round and up and round and down and
Down and up and round and round.
Over arm and under leg and
Off the knee and off the head and
Up and bounce and down and round and
Then he starts it all again)

Adopted from "Clown of God" by Tomie De Paola

(This is read by the Ring Master while Giovanni acts it out. It is done in mime without any props or spoken words from Giovanni. If preferred, other people can help portray other characters. The mime can play the Maestro. The buffoon can play the Baptistas. The Magicians can play the monks. And the Family choir can play the statues of the parents and children.)

Many, many years ago, in Sorrento, there lived a boy named Giovanni, who had no mother or father. He dressed in rags, begged for bread, and slept in doorways. But... he was happy. And, he could do something wonderful! He could juggle! Everyday he would go to Signor Baptista’s Fruit and vegetable stall and juggle.

He would juggle lemons and oranges, apples and eggplants, and even zucchini. Crowds would gather to watch and when Giovanni had finished they would buy from Signor Baptista. Then Signor Baptista’s wife would give Giovanni a bowl of hot soup. It was a very good arrangement.

One day, a troupe of traveling players came to town and Giovanni watched them as they danced and sang. "Oh," Giovanni said to himself, "That is the life for me!" So, when the play was over, Giovanni went and spoke to the Maestro. "No, no," said the Maestro, "I have no need of a ragamuffin. Go beg your bread elsewhere."

"But, I could be helpful," pleaded Giovanni. "I could help pack and unpack. I could take care of the donkey. And Maestro..... I can juggle!"

[Family Choir sings chorus of "The Juggler"]

Up and down and round and round and
Up and down and round and round and
Round and up and round and down and
Down and up and round and round.
Over arm and under leg and
Off the knee and off the head and
Up and bounce and down and round and
Then he starts it all again.

"Not bad," said the Maestro, "...with a bit of training and practice.... All right! But no money. A place to sleep, the companionship of the finest players in Italy, and a bowl of noodles. That’s all!

"Grazie, Signor" said Giovanni as he bowed before the Maestro. And after waving good-bye to the Baptista’s, Giovanni was on his way.

Unlike some others, success came quickly for Giovanni as a traveling player. Soon the Maestro gave him a costume and Giovanni juggled for the crowds. He would put on a clown’s face, step out from the curtain before the play began, bow, open up a colorful bag, roll out a carpet, and begin.

(Family Choir begins to quietly sing the first four lines of the chorus faster and faster, as narrator continues to read.)

He would juggle sticks.... Plates... Then he would balance the plates and sticks and twirl them. He would juggle clubs, rings and burning torches.

[Up and down and round and round and
Up and down and round and round and
Round and up and round and down and
Down and up and round and round.]
juggler.gif (2873 bytes)

Finally, he would toss a red ball and an orange ball. Then a yellow ball. A green, a blue and a violet ball until it looked as if he were juggling the rainbow. "And now for the Sun in the Heavens!" he would cry. Still juggling, he would pick up a shining golden ball and toss it higher and higher, faster and faster. While the crowed cheered and clapped wildly. [Family Choir applauds]

Giovanni became very famous and went out on his own. And although his costumes became more beautiful, he always kept the face of a clown. He even juggled for dukes and queens, but it was always the same. [Quietly, the first four lines of "The Juggler" on the piano] First the sticks, then the plates, then the clubs, the rings, and burning torches. Finally the rainbow balls. "And now, for the Sun in the Heavens!" he would shout, and the golden ball would fly higher and higher as the people cheered.

One day Giovanni was sitting in the shade of a tree eating a lunch of bread and cheese when two monks came down the road. "Will you share your food with us, good clown?" they asked, "for the love of God and the blessing of our Brothers and Sisters?"

"Sit down, good brothers," Giovanni said. There is more than enough." As the three of them ate the two brothers told Giovanni how they went from town to town begging their food and spreading the joy of God. "Our motto is that all things shared are signs of the glory of God. Why, even your juggling," said one of the brothers.

"That’s well and good for you," said Giovanni, "but I only juggle to make people laugh and applaud."

"It’s the same thing," the brother said. "If you give happiness to people, you give glory to God as well."

"If you say so," said Giovanni laughing. "But now, I must be off to the next town. Arrivederci, Good Brothers."

Wherever Giovanni went the air was filled with his flying sticks and plates, his clubs and rings and torches. And always his rainbow of balls and "the Sun in the Heavens." And wherever Giovanni went the faces of the crowds would be all smiles, and sounds of laughter and cheers would ring out.

Years passed...[Chorus quietly plays on the piano, slow and slower] Giovanni grew old and time became hard. People no longer stopped to watch. "It’s only the old clown who juggles things. We’ve all seen him before," they said. Giovanni was sad, but still he juggled until one day..... he dropped "the Sun in the Heavens," and the rainbow of balls came crashing down and the crowd stood around him and laughed. But not for joy. Then they did a terrible thing. They threw vegetables and stones at Giovanni, so that he had to run for his life!

Beside a stream, Giovanni took off his clown face. He put away his sticks and plates, his clubs and rings and colored balls. He put away his costume and he gave up juggling forever. What little money he had was soon gone and his clothes became rags and he begged his bread and slept in doorways. "It’s time to go home" the old man said. And he headed back to Sorrento.

It was a cold winter night when he arrived. The wind blew and icy rain was falling. Up ahead loomed the Monastery Church of the Brothers and Sisters of God. The windows were in darkness. Wet and cold, old Giovanni crept inside, fell in a heap in a corner and fell asleep. [Piano comes in softly playing a Gloria] Late in the night music woke him. The church was blazing with candle light and filled with people singing, "Alleluia." Giovanni couldn’t believe his eyes. So much beauty! A long procession of brothers, nuns, priests and townspeople, all carrying beautiful gifts in front of a statue that honored the human family. "What is all this?" asked Giovanni aloud.

"Why, it’s the celebration of the family," a woman said. It’s the procession of the gifts." Giovanni watched in amazement until the singing was over. Then the church emptied and was dark except for the bright candles surrounding the statue. Giovanni moved closer. The stone figures of the children standing by their parents seemed so sad, serious and stern.

"Oh," said Giovanni. "I wish I had something to offer, too." Your children seem so sad, even with all these beautiful gifts. But WAIT! I used to make people smile." Giovanni opened his bag and shook out his old costume. Then he put on his clown face, bowed, rolled out the little rug and began to juggle. First the sticks. Then the plates. Next he twirled the plates on the sticks and then the clubs and the rings.

A brother who came to lock the doors saw Giovanni juggling. He was horrified. "Monsignor, a sacrilege!" he cried out... and ran to get the priest. But Giovanni didn’t hear him. "And now, said Giovanni smiling at the faces of the children. "First the red ball, then the orange, now the yellow and the green, blue and violet." Around and up they went until they looked like a rainbow. "And finally," cried Giovanni, "The Sun in the Heavens!" The gold ball flew up and around and around higher and higher. Giovanni had never juggled so well in all his life. Higher and higher, faster and faster. The blaze of color filled the air. It was magnificent! Giovanni’s heart was pounding, "For you sweet children! For you! he cried. Then suddenly his old heart stopped... and Giovanni fell dead.

The priest and brother rushed in. Stooping over old Giovanni the priest said, "Why the poor clown is dead. May his soul rest in peace." But the other brother backed away with his mouth wide open, he stared at the statue. "Oh, Monsignor!" he said pointing. "Oh look!" They turned and they saw, in amazement, the sight of the stone children - all smiling broadly - and one of them held in her hands, the golden ball.

I’m very good at celebrating, Lord.

You’ve seen me do cartwheels
As if I were a galaxy swinging through space.
You’ve spied me marveling at your handiwork
staring wide-eyed at all the celestial juggling balls.
I wonder how you do it.
How you keep not just the sun and the moon aloft
but all the planets, stars and comets going
without ever dropping one.
I spend more time picking up what I’ve dropped -
friendships, responsibilities and dreams
then I ever do juggling.
when I feel like giving up
Please come
And teach me how to celebrate!

Once, many years ago, a circus came to town. As one of their crowd pleasing acts the Ring Master invited the strong man into the ring and gave him an orange. He asked the strong man to squeeze the orange with all his might and squeeze out all the juice. Then to show how powerful the strong man really was, he challenged the audience to come up and see if they could do better. He offered them a hundred dollars to anyone who could squeeze even one more drop out of that same orange. The biggest people you could imagine lined up and tried their best but none of them could get even one drop between them. Finally a small, frail, old man came forward, pushed the thick black glasses back on his nose, took hold of the orange and squeezed SIX MORE DROPS from that orange. The crowd and the ring master stood in amazement. "How in the world did you do that?" they all asked incredulously.
"Well," said the old man humbly. "It’s not so hard anymore. See, I’m the treasurer for the (Name of your church) church and I’ve been doing this with our budget for years!"

For the work of the church, which weaves a tapestry of love from our lives we will now accept this morning’s offering.

HYMN All Creatures of the Earth and Sky

Go forth and make a joyful noise unto the Lord
Make an ungodly Cacophony
Make loud rude sounds.
Rejoice until the reserve
That muffles our laughter
and smothers our lives pops like a balloon.
Go forth and celebrate
For living joyously is an act of worship.
When those around you are locked in their reserve
Be with them truly religious
and teach them how to party!

CLOSING SONG The Greatest Show on Earth