Inside London's Annual Clown-Themed Church Service

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For one London congregation, dressing in their Sunday best means donning a red foam nose, oversized shoes, and a bowler hat. As the Agence France-Presse reports, the All Saints Church in East London is home to an annual church service for clowns, who gather each year on the first Sunday of February to pay tribute to their icon, 18th-century English comedian and pantomime performer Joseph Grimaldi.

Grimaldi, who died in 1837, was one of the world’s first circus clowns. He’s credited with creating the modern archetype of the clown as a mischievous—yet innocent—figure, and for being the first to don all-white make-up. (“Joey,” a slang term for pantomime clowns coined by author George Bernard Shaw, was inspired by Grimaldi.) But despite his happy façade, Grimaldi led a tragic private life, and his signature style of physical comedy led to him developing a host of painful physical ailments, including arthritis.

The first church service honoring Grimaldi’s memory was held in 1946, at a since-demolished church in the London borough of Islington (home to Grimaldi’s grave). Now in its 71st year, the event draws members of the clowning industry from around the world who wish to celebrate Grimaldi, “and to pay…last respects to all those clowns who passed on to the big top in the sky during the previous year,” states the website of Clowns International, a non-profit that describes itself as “the oldest established club for clowns and friends of clowns.”

This year’s Annual Grimaldi Clown Service fell on February 5 and drew dozens of attendees. The program featured hymns, a prayer dedicated to the clowning profession, and tributes to clowns past and present.

"Clowns are the catalyst to laughter," speaker MC Mattie the Clown told attendees, according to CNN. “And as Charlie Chaplin said: 'A day without laughter is a day wasted.'"

Check out a video of this year's clown-themed church service below.

[h/t Agence France-Presse]