FINKSBURG — Ben Tigler, 2, sat on his mother's lap, mesmerized as the story of Noah's ark unfolded before his eyes.
"This is the longest he has ever sat still for anything," said his father, Mark. "It must be the clowns."
Made up in white face and wearing bright clothes, the Fools for Christ, a Christian clown ministry, performed their version of the great flood.
They kept the audience's attention throughout the mimed performance of the familiar Bible story.
The Rev. Daniel Hendersonsaid he had sent in the clowns to cheer the congregation of Mount Zion United Methodist Church. About 25 people attended Friday's performance.
"We have been trying to rebuild the fellowship here," he said. "Membership has dwindled."
He read the flood story from Genesisto the audience before the Pond family of Westminster, who play the "fools," entered.
"Noah is a good show for people who haven't seenus," said Peg Pond. "It's a story everyone knows and enjoys."
ThePonds -- Peg, her husband, Bill, and their two teen-age daughters, Paij and Stephany -- set their own stage as they keep the audience involved. They often scour the room, looking for props. Noah and his wife began building a boat while their children walked through the audience, choosing "animals" -- members of the congregations -- to fill the ark.
A spate of laughter greeted each selection as the children silently taught people how to mime the gestures of rabbits, monkeys and seals.
Henderson's laughter was heard above all the rest. His congregation had the last laugh, though, as the pastor was pulled to the stage, acting like a cow.
The new recruits entered into the spirit of the story, swaying back and forth as the raging storm bashed their boat. The merriment continued when Noah's family sniffed disdainfully, dropped their umbrellas and reached for brooms to sweep the boat clean of refuse.
"God delights in laughter," said Peg. "It's the expression of true joy."
More giggles followed as the clowns delivered stuffed animal babies to each pair of passengers. Noah, playedby Bill, erred when he delivered a small monkey to the rabbits. The Ponds said clowning has shown them how much people like to laugh at themselves and their friends.
"We want the audience to play with us, to enter into the spirit of our play" said Peg. "We multiply our fun by encouraging and including everyone."
At show's end, Ben's parents grabbed him before he could follow the Ponds into their dressingroom. Peg said children often want the story to continue.
"We turn around backstage and there are little kids," she said.
Peg and Bill and their daughters have been involved in the clown ministry for nearly four years. Peg said she "fell in love" with clowning at a renewal weekend sponsored by the Methodist Church and decided to take a training course.
When the rest of the family saw the fun she was having, they decided to join her in "clowning for Christ".
"We developed some easy mime skits, based on Scripture," she said.
Fools for Christ also perform the Resurrection and the Nativity. Two godchildren, who were weekend guests at the Ponds' home, joined Friday's show.
"We told them they could come and watch or they could put on white face," said Bill. "Once in makeup, we become silent."
In Christian clowning, Peg said, putting on white face means "to die to self." She refers to her clown self as another person.
"My clown tries to recapture the child within me," she said. "I allow her to step outin faith and include the audience in love."
Her husband said the ministry is a two-way street. They enjoy getting the Christian message across to congregations and the response is wonderful.
"We have a lot of fun just playing off each other. You open up your heart as you clown," said Bill.