Puppet Ministry Twosome Make the News in Lufkin

Date Posted: 2/26/2015

Reprinted article by Stephanie Stevens with permission from The Lufkin Daily News
Puppets are the tools of the trade for two brothers at St. Paul’s UMC in Lufkin. The blue puppets, Chip and Tater, may be ordinary puppets, but when they are on the talented hands of 20-year-old twins Ben and Grider Killam, they come alive. Originally created for children’s sermons at First UMC in Lufkin, Chip ‘n Tater have entertained and educated many adults as well. They have a regular gig on the third Sunday of each month at St. Paul’s UMC but have also performed in several churches and schools in Lufkin, Diboll and Alto during the last six years.
Chip ‘n Tater are a very effective tool for ministry,” says Rev. Steve Killam, pastor of St. Paul’s who is the father of the puppeteers and writes skits for the puppet shows. “Puppets can teach better than humans can because the audience doesn’t realize they are being taught until they have already learned.”

Ben adds, “The skits teach people about various things like tithing, church assembly, honesty, hard work, prayer and Christian holidays.” The skits present a problem to solve and offer a prayer, with jokes thrown in sporadically. Steve keeps the skits short, less than five minutes, because that’s how long the puppeteers can hold their arms overhead.
“I’ve had many children and adults tell me they learn more from the puppets than they do from the sermon,” adds Steve. “As a preacher, that stings, but as a father and writer, that makes me feel good.” After one of the performances, he said a little boy approached the puppeteers and wanted to know where Chip ‘n Tater had gone. Grider showed the boy the puppets in a bag, but the child was not satisfied. He believed the puppets on stage were real and things in the bag weren’t.
“Sometimes, when done right that is the way God speaks,” Steve adds. “The Bible may be just paper and ink, but when we hear it, the Bible can come to life.” He admits he did not want to do a puppet ministry until he saw two former students in the FUMC youth group use sack puppets, Bubba and Junior, in an effective way. After those students went to college, Grider began to do puppets with Tammy Jo Willmon at First Assembly of God Church in Lufkin. She taught Grider and Ben the fundamentals of puppetry; that knowledge was used to start Chip ‘n Tater.
The puppets were owned by David Runnels, a former youth minister at First UMC. “David let Ben and Grider borrow these blue puppets for their first show,” adds Steve, “and after watching how they came to life, he suspected he would never get them back. He was right!”
When asked about their favorite part of performing, Ben (who controls Chip, a more serious character) said, “I like that I can act a little crazy during the skits.” Grider (who controls the excitable Tater) said, “It gives me the opportunity to use my many funny voices in a productive way.” Above all, though, Ben and Grider said their goal is to “make sermons fun for kids and adults. If it spreads God’s love, it’s important to us. We like that it makes people happy.” For more information or to view skit videos online, visit http://www.lufkinstpauls.com/chip-tater/.