Pair of puppets helps pastor teach

EVERETT — At First Congregational United Church of Christ in Everett, Oscar and Tootsie sometimes show up when it’s least expected.

On Thursday, it was getting late in the day and Oscar and Tootsie were bickering.

Tootsie was chiding Oscar because he had received more clothes than she had as a recent gift.

“Did not,” Oscar said.

“Did too,” Tootsie said, flipping her blond hair.

That’s when Steve Hannings, pastor at First Congregational, intervened.

“Well, Tootsie, Oscar was sick, and a few people thought he needed some things.”

At First Congregational, Oscar and Tootsie appear at the Sunday worship services and at unexpected places, such as meals for the homeless and at staff meetings.

They often bicker like brothers and sisters.

They’re just ordinary kids.

Except that Oscar and Tootsie are puppets.

Since 1973, puppets like Oscar and Tootsie have joined Hannings at the pulpit for Sunday morning services.

For the past year, they’ve helped Hannings entertain and educate the kids and adults at First Congregational, where Hannings is the interim pastor.

The Everett congregation, which has roughly 40 to 50 people in attendance each Sunday, is a progressive congregation, said Mimi Lane, a retired chaplain who attends the church.

“That means we’re open and affirming to all people,” Lane said.

And to all puppets.

“The puppets teach the kids how to get along and how to make up after a fight,” said Peggy Skill of Arlington, who also attends the church.

When Hannings first introduced his puppets in 1973, they only showed up at Sunday School, he said.

Finally, in 1981 the puppets graduated to the sanctuary for worship.

“There were people who just couldn’t quite get used to puppets in the worship service, but most of the parents liked them,” Hannings said.

Hannings might be the only pastor in Snohomish County who has puppets helping him with his sermons.

The congregation at First Congregational sees nothing unusual about puppets at the pulpit.

“The adults around here are as enthusiastic about the puppets as the kids,” Lane said.

The puppets have even joined Hannings at weddings and receptions, she added.

Since retiring in 2006, Hannings has served various United Church of Christ congregations as an interim pastor. Each stint lasts about two years.

The puppets come with him.

Hannings said he plans to continue to serve congregations as an interim pastor whenever he’s needed for as long as he can.

He does it for the kids.

“If a kid gets involved or says something to the puppet, that’s huge,” said Hannings. “The children really see themselves in Oscar and Tootsie. They know this is their moment. I always love it when a child interacts with a puppet week after week.”

Reporter Leita Hermanson Crossfield: 425-339-3449 or

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