Magician priest helps Aspen Chapel celebrate Christmas |

Magician priest helps Aspen Chapel celebrate Christmas

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Mark Townsend, a magician and Anglican priest, will perform at the Aspen Chapel's Christmas Eve services. Townsend will also perform a traditional magic show on Saturday, Dec. 26.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

What: ‘World of Magic,’ with priest-magician Mark Townsend

Where: Aspen Chapel

When: Saturday, Dec. 26, 5 p.m.

How much: $20 at the door; $15/adults; $16/children under 16

Tickets:; 970-925-7184

More info: Townsend will also perform during the Aspen Chapel’s Christmas Eve services at 4:30, 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 24.

Singing carols and hymns, arranging poinsettias and reading verses are just a few of the ways Christians traditionally engage with art while celebrating Christmas. Magic tricks, performed by a priest who also is a world-class magician, are more rare. Such illusions will be a centerpiece of the Aspen Chapel’s Christmas Eve services Thursday, with magician-priest Mark Townsend on the altar.

Rev. Mark Townsend has been doing magic since age 10, beginning after an uncle showed him a card trick. The practice continued as he trained in the Anglican ministry and was ordained a priest.

“I realized that church people can get lost in the theology,” Townsend said recently from England. “So I wanted to hold on to the hobby of magic as something that would give me a bit of fun during the years of heavy study.”

Over the past 15 years, Townsend has incorporated magic tricks and illusion into church services.

“Magic, through imagery, can communicate very deep truths and bring people back to a sense of wonder,” he said.

Aspen Chapel minister Nicholas Vesey invited Townsend to come to Aspen to perform at the church’s Christmas Eve services. During those Christian holiday services, Vesey will preach about the birth of Christ, with assistance from Townsend illustrating the Biblical story. (Townsend also is doing a straight magic show in the chapel on Saturday).

“Christmas is about bringing people back to that childlike sense of beauty,” Townsend said. “It’s not about me looking special. It’s about me helping everyone participate so that they feel special and magical.”

He noted that the three wise men in the story of the Nativity also are known as the Magi, and that magic has forever been a part of the Christmas.

“They are obviously mystical, wise people who came from a different culture than the one Jesus came from,” he said. “And they were very much a part of that story.”

Vesey, celebrating his second Christmas at the helm of the Aspen Chapel, sees using magic to communicate the wonder of Christmas as no different from other, more traditional art forms used in services.

“People use art in order to explain religious things,” he said. “You have stained glass windows, music. But there are different types of art. It’s difficult to communicate ideas like Christmas and the incarnation. So the idea is, as well as having carols and readings, to explain what Christmas is about through (Townsend’s) art, which is magic.”