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Long-time newspaper writer tells a different story

Long-time newspaper writer tells a different story

Denominational News

Editor's Note: Freelance writer Joe Henderson describes the emergence of faith-based theatre at Temple Terrace UMC.

It all started nine years ago with a quick conversation in the breezeway on a February morning at Temple Terrace United Methodist Church in Tampa.

I told Pastor St. Clair D. Moore of an idea I had for a play that would be performed on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. I would write the script, then cast and direct the play. It would be a re-creation of the Last Supper, staged in our fellowship hall. The audience would also partake of Communion while the actors were doing the same on stage.

Like many churches, we had performed Christmas and Easter plays in the past, but we always just used a published play from an outside source. We had never tried anything with our own full-length script.

Karl Knox (left), and Lee Clemens, both members of Temple Terrace UMC, rehearse lines for an original play titled, "Faith and the Manger." Locating costumes, building props and juggling rehearsal schedules are just a few of the challenges churches face with Christmas plays.

“Do it,” he said.

Little did I expect that we would have a turn-away crowd that night or that people would be emotionally affected to the point of tears. I especially did not expect that we would still be producing major original plays at Christmas and Easter as a gift to our congregation and community.

But we are.

Our latest effort was called “Faith and the Manger.” Like all of our Christmas plays, it was an original script backed by a choir and soloists directed by Worship Pastor Patina Ripkey.

We draw large crowds, including many visitors. While we do take up an offering, admission is free.

I think we are all amazed how effective this drama ministry has become. I believe that is because everyone associated with this outreach has been faithful to God’s calling.

I am a professional writer with more than 40 years in the newspaper industry.

I began to feel an inward nudge that my God-given ability to write had to be used for more than my professional career. I had only a bare working knowledge of the theater— just enough to get myself in trouble—but all I had to do was say, “yes.”

The same goes for all the people who have accepted parts in our plays or the singers and musicians who made it special. They all believed that drama was another way to reach those in need with a message they needed to hear.

These are not professional actors; several had never performed before. We don’t have a theater-quality stage in our sanctuary, and we scrounge for costumes and props. It is hard work to juggle rehearsal schedules and memorize lines.

Why do it?

Because it’s bigger than us.

The greatest reward is when someone from the audience tells one of us how they were touched by what they saw on the stage. It happens often.

Pastor Moore is still at our church and is a strong supporter of drama, but he leaves it to the volunteers to make it work. He trusts our judgment and dedication, and in return, we trust that God is in control. We trust that our work will be a blessing if we put in the effort.

It is worth the hassle.

And it began with two simple words from the pastor, words that power anything of value: Do it.

--Joe Henderson is a freelance writer based in Brandon

Editor’s Note: Temple Terrace UMC’s resident playwright reports their most recent dramatic effort, held Dec. 9-10, raised donations totaling nearly $900. The funds were given to five needy families living near the church.