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Role Playing

May 5, 2019 by Jim Harris (Virginia, USA)
Jim in his teacher's education class
Jim portraying Bartimaeus
Jim in 2019 as Pontius Pilate

I was still in college when I began serving my first appointment. I was a part-time student pastor to two churches in the Shenandoah Valley. In my second year I was asked a question by the education chair of the larger of the two churches: “When are you going to do teacher training? You’ve been here a year and you’ve never visited the classes.” Me? Teacher education? I was stressed as it was, but she said it was my responsibility. Just to be sure, I checked with my district superintendent who confirmed that I needed to show leadership in all areas of the church, even education.

The chair and I met and came up with a creative approach. She came as a nurse, in uniform, and I as a doctor, wearing a lab coat. We relabeled old prescription bottles and placed the various points made in the training in each one. It was well-attended and well-received, as I remember.

That was the start of my portraying various characters, usually from the Bible. I did these mostly for sermons and children’s lessons. In addition to Blind Bartimaeus, I have been a Magi on his way home from Bethlehem, John the Baptist, the Prodigal Son, Moses, Pontius Pilate. I recently portrayed Pontius Pilate again for the Easter drama at the church where I am an associate pastor, in retirement.

Usually these portrayals take place as part of a worship service, and the two times I have played Pilate were in dramas. Acting itself is easy for me when I get to write the dialogue, but I have never been good at memorization. Fortunately, Pilate only said six lines.

I enjoyed the Easter drama this year. Our entire church pulled together to tell the story of the Roman Centurion whose life was changed by officiating at the crucifixion of Jesus. We had a cast of nearly eighty, plus dozens of others in support roles. A Seder meal was served to the audience and the actors, as was Holy Communion. Our sanctuary was packed for the one-time performance.

As a primarily visual learner, I find that plays, dramas, and character portrayals are an effective way to inform and to teach. I am blessed and grateful to be serving at a church that embraces that and does it so very well.


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