It’s a Sunday at St. Mark Baptist Church, and congregants are drifting steadily into the building. They stop to greet each other in the hallway off the main entrance, then stake out a seat among to the pews to wait for the morning service to begin.
On another day, Dynasty Davis might be among them. But on this particular Sunday, she’s arrived early to tuck herself away in the basement of the church. There, in front of a small bathroom mirror, she examines her reflection critically as she covers her face in white makeup, using even, circular motions to transform all but her lips and eyebrows.
These she outlines next in black. Then she slips on a purple robe, a pair of white gloves, and her look is complete: She’s ready to minister as a mime.
“It’s my way and my outlet of connecting with God,” Ms. Davis said. “It’s my way of worshiping.”
Ms. Davis is one of several area mime ministers, who seek to glorify God and inspire viewers through choreographies that blend elements of sign language and interpretative dance. Their white makeup and gloves intentionally accentuate their expressions and gestures, which in turn give visual representation to psalms or songs like Le’Andria Johnson’s “Better Days,” which Ms. Davis chose for the recent service at St. Mark.
Mime ministry, a cousin to praise dance, rose to prominence in the 1990s and, today, is pervasive enough to support numerous gatherings and conferences across the country each year. In Toledo, it has a steady, if not prolific, presence in ministers like Ms. Davis, Kiera Williams of Kingdom Mime Worshiper Ministry, and Daniel Rice of Unblockable Worship Mime Ministry.
Ms. Davis ministers under her own name by herself and under Dancing to Our Destiny Mime Ministry when she’s with the four girls she’s taken under wing. They range in age from 7 to 12.
While there’s certainly a performance element to what they do, Ms. Davis, Ms. Williams, and Mr. Rice are quick to clarify that they’re ministers rather than performers.
A performance, in these ministries, is a means to a greater end.
“We’re not entertainment. We’re coming to minister. We’re coming to deliver,” Ms. Davis said. “Somebody [in the audience] is hurting. Somebody is going through something. Somebody needs to get closer to Him. And we can do that, through our movements.”
Ms. Williams spoke similarly.
“I mime because it’s an expression of my love toward God,” she said. “My mission is to just touch somebody or save a soul through my movement.”
While the secular roots of mime stretch as far back as Ancient Greece, its use as an expression of worship is much more recent. K&K Mime Ministry of Pittsburgh is largely credited with blazing this trail beginning in the late 1980s and early ‘90s
K&K Mime Ministry is made up of Karl and Keith Edmonds, twin brothers who began to dabble with the artform as children. Their then-uncommon ministry first filtered through churches in Pittsburgh, and by the mid-1990s, they were introducing it to mainstream audiences through high-profile television appearances, like Bobby Jones Gospel on BET in 1996.
“Basically,” Ms. Williams said, “they’re known as the godfathers of mime.”
Ms. Williams herself remembers watching K&K Mime Ministry on YouTube before she entered the ministry four or five years ago; she said they’re still among her favorite to watch.
Mr. Daniels spoke similarly of his online introduction to mime ministry. He was 16 years old when he came across K&K Mime Ministry on YouTube; their ministry was featured in a suggested video that popped up while he looking up clips of preachers.
“They really gripped my heart,” Mr. Daniels said. “I said, I would love to do something like that.”
The idea of the ministry, in some ways, is to give new dimension to the word of God, according to Pastor Marcus Taylor of Resurrection Church on the Rock in Cleveland, where prophetic dance, prophetic art, and even a drill team are among the creative worship expressions a congregant might experience during a service.
“It is personifying the very word of God in dance,” Pastor Taylor said of mime ministry. “If you really receive the ministry of mime, it can really take you into the story of what is happening. It’s like an invitation to another level of intimacy and worship with God.”
Mr. Daniels, who is planning to relocate from Toledo to Cleveland, is an occasional minister at Resurrection Church; like Ms. Davis and Ms. Williams, his ministry is not tied to a particular church and he is just as likely to minister at a community or church event as he is at a service.
His pastor in Cleveland described him as a “walking, dancing filmmaker.”
“It’s giving the word something to see visually,” Pastor Taylor continued.
Local mimes described several paths that brought them to the ministry.
Ms. Davis was called to it by prophetic word in 2013, she recalled, and was initially hesitant to embrace it, in large part, because she knew so little about mime ministry.
She enlisted a friend with experience in praise dance the first time she ministered in front of a congregation. Then things clicked.
“I got that feeling, like this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” she said. “This is me.”
She brought younger mimes into the ministry in 2015, acquiescing to their entreaties that she teach them, and said it’s proved to be a positive outlet for the girls.
For Mr. Daniels, it was about two years between when he first felt the pull of mime ministry as a 16-year-old and when he first ministered at Bibleway Temple; today his home church in Toledo is Mount Hope Church of Jesus Christ.
“I didn’t know how to dance when I started,” he recalled. “I had no rhythm whatsoever. I just kept praying. I prayed for two years. My prayer was consistent: I just asked the Lord to teach me how to dance, give me insight on how to move, and he did just that.”
It also helped to see that he was better off not trying to mimic the moves he saw other mime ministers using in videos, he said, and rely on God to guide his own motions. He rehearses choregraphies before stepping in front of a congregation or a conference, he said, but, even today, when he feels called in a moment to substitute a different gesture, he listens.
He’s been ministering at local and out-of-state engagements for about eight years.
At St. Mark Baptist Church, when the sounds of an impending service begin to drift down to the basement, Ms. Davis takes it as her cue to kneel in prayer. When she heads upstairs, she prefers to wait in the hallway for a worship leader to call her forward, so as not to distract other worshipers in the pews with her getup.
A few late-comers greet her warmly as they arrive, offering air kisses and teasing that they don’t want her makeup to rub off on their cheeks.
Then, eventually, it’s her time to minister. The music begins on a sound system. In her sinuous movements, she tells begins to tell the congregation — visually — that better days, better days, better days are coming.
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