The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Worship

August 5, 2013

Joplin man incorporates ventriloquist act into longtime ministry

JOPLIN, Mo. — Bud Clapp was attending Ozark Christian College and serving as youth pastor at Welch (Okla.) Christian Church when he decided to try something new in his ministry. The something new meant coming up with an idea that would provide fun for his youth group.

Although there are a multitude of activities available for youths, the Joplin man chose something unique that few, if any, would attempt without previous experience: He decided to try his hand at ventriloquism.

He began teaching himself, practicing in front of mirrors and even in the car, until everything started to fall into place.

Then Jerry came along. Although some might refer to Jerry as Clapp's dummy, the more commonly known designation used by ventriloquists is "vent figure."

The birth of Jerry is another interesting angle to the story. Clapp wrote to the man responsible for making vent figures of internationally known ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, and he agreed to make Jerry.

Although Clapp's early years with Jerry involved ministering at youth camps, banquets and vacation Bible schools, he said he has had requests for many adult events.

One such event came several years ago as a result of mistaken identity. He was asked to come and speak to 200 people at a banquet at Great Lakes Bible College in Lansing, Mich.

"I got there and sat down next to the guy who was in charge of the program," said Clapp, a native of Indianapolis, Ind. "He started asking me about the year I graduated from Great Lakes Bible College and I said I did not graduate from there, and he said, 'Oh, I thought you did.'

"They had the wrong person. I asked him what we should do now and he said that since I was already there, I might as well go ahead and do what I normally do with Jerry."

Clapp said that was one of the craziest things to ever happen in his ministry -- being in a place where he was not expected to be and having to do something he was not expected to do.

After graduating from OCC in 1966, spending two years as a youth pastor in Welch and starting two new churches in Lincoln, Ill., and Edmond, Okla., Clapp returned to Joplin in order to take a teaching position with OCC, as well as serve as dean of students.

Following his tenure with OCC, he went to Mercy Hospital Joplin in 1990 as a chaplain and has worked in pastoral care there ever since. His current title is chaplain/bereavement coordinator with Hospice Compassus.

With all the time devoted to preaching, teaching and ministering to others, Clapp, 68, has never failed to keep his interaction with Jerry alive, not only before an audience of rapt youngsters but, also, adults. In fact, he has found many benefits in working with Jerry at nursing homes and with hospice patients.

However, there have been a few requests for appearances that have caught Clapp a bit off guard.

"I never ever thought about this, but I have had families ask me to come with Jerry for funerals," he said.

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