As president of Luther Seminary, Robin Steinke has talked to plenty of dignitaries and religious leaders. But she’s never met anyone quite like the small, black-and-white spotted cow with a large pink nose who chatted with her about her job in St. Paul, Minn., and then asked her to pray with him.
That friendly cow is Moo-Moo, and according to his catchy jingle, he might be coming to your town soon—as long as his buddy Matt Bethune can tag along.
“Moo-Moo’s Prayer Club,” a YouTube video series starring the titular bovine, is a long-planned mission come to digital life for Bethune, a veteran puppeteer who at one time worked with the Sesame Street team.
The idea started forming about five years ago, when he first got the cow puppet.
Bethune saw a Canadian show, Gary’s Hug Club, starring a puppet unicorn that gives hugs to people, which he found adorable. It then occurred to him that the same concept could be used for prayer.
“As a children’s ministry director, one constant I’ve noticed is that kids hate to pray, especially out loud,” he said. “I was trying to think of why, and I talked to a lot of them. The thing I heard more than anything was, ‘We’re afraid we’re going to do it wrong.’ That really sat with me.”
Moo-Moo’s mission is to show young people that there’s no single way to pray. Last year Bethune started pitching the idea for the series at the congregation where he was working. The congregants liked the idea but didn’t have a budget for it.
“I prayed about it and talked to my wife, and we decided to self-fund it,” he said.
The idea grew quickly, thanks in part to Bethune’s friend Dione Stepanek, an assistant to the bishop and director for evangelical mission with the La Crosse Area Synod. Bethune was one of Stepanek’s parishioners at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Boulder, Colo., where he handled videography during the COVID-19 lockdown and created some puppet segments for children.
When Bethune told Stepanek he was coming through La Crosse to tape interview segments with Moo-Moo, she started contacting local people as potential subjects.
“If I had the email return rate that I got on those for everything else, my life would be so much easier,” she said. “Not only was the answer ‘yes,’ but it was, ‘When is it? I can change my schedule.’ That doesn’t happen for other things. Everyone was excited, and everyone was nervous. But he made it so easy to talk. He said, ‘I’ll just chat with you.’ I sat and watched all of them, and it was impossible not to smile.”
Bethune learned what to ask through trial and error, beginning with a sample video that featured his sons. He found that the two most effective subjects were discovering the different ways people serve God and how they pray.
“Then I ask if they want to join prayer club and we pray for each other,” he said. “I could tell from the first few that this was the right way to go. Those are simple but deep enough concepts for us to focus on.”
“The sky is the limit for what this cow can do.”
Bethune shot 17 videos before any were shown. One of his favorite moments came when he interviewed Steinke. She mentioned that the word “seminary” was Latin for seedbed. He liked the visual that created.
“Off the cuff I said, ‘That must take a lot of water,’ and as if we scripted it, she started to talk about the waters of baptism,” he recalled. “There was something about that moment. She was totally game for having this conversation with a puppet cow, and we reached this deep lovely spot, and her answer was so brilliant.”
Each three- to six-minute video begins with an opening jingle; this is followed by a few questions, then Moo-Moo and his new friend pray. Bethune hopes to release a new video each week. He sees the series as the first step in a larger ministry.
“We have a plan for ‘Moo-Moo’s Moo-niversity’ segments in the middle of the week,” he said. “We might answer some questions, such as ‘Why do we put our hands together when we pray?’ and ‘Does God like to be addressed in a certain way, and do we need to pray out loud for God to hear?’”
Bethune hopes Moo-Moo might be able to make more in-person visits around the country. “If we can get our funding figured out,” he said, “the sky is the limit for what this cow can do.”