Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Theater viewed as possible outreach tool

Increasingly, congregations look to stage productions to further their evangelistic and outreach mission goals. North Heights Lutheran Church (independent) offers some of the most elaborate productions. Photo provided by North Heights Lutheran Church

Drama/musical productions are a means of outreach for some Lutheran congregations, as well as spiritual development for members using their music, drama, and dance skills.

“Those involved in our productions gain confidence in sharing the gospel and find so much joy in seeing lives impacted by the Lord. They sacrifice so much time and energy to be a part of these productions. It is a way for them to give back to the Lord and to pray that He is honored and glorified and that many are drawn to Him through the message, says Mark David Williams, who directs North Heights (Lutheran Church) Productions.

“It really is an effective outreach as there are so many people who are lost and hurting who may not feel comfortable coming into a church building on a Sunday morning, but they may be open to going with a friend to a show and hear the gospel in that way,” he adds. “It gives us an opportunity to empower and equip our people in ministry through the arts and to share the salvation message with all ages.”

Below is more about North Heights (independent) and three other churches that use musical/dramatic productions in ministry.

North Heights Lutheran Church
1700 West Highway 96
Arden Hills, Minnesota

All Things New is the title of an original Easter production scheduled to open March 31. Eight performances plus three dinner theater dates are on the calendar. Attendance averages 1,000-1,200 per performance; 200-300 perform on stage. About 100 are off stage and helping in the parking lot. The facility includes a multi-level stage, lighting, and sound equipment.

North Heights Lutheran Church, an independent Lutheran congregation in Arden Hills, Minnesota, offers an elaborate schedule of theatrical productions during special church seasons. Several other congregations offer plays with strong messages, but not necessarily church themes, as a way to increase conversation within the church as well as to build relationships with people in the community.

A large number of our audience members are not members of the church.

Ticket information is available at 651/797-7071 or the web site: NHLC.org/allthingsnew.

Calvary Lutheran Church 3901
Chicago Avenue South
Minneapolis

Musical productions are relatively new, says the Rev. Brad Froslee, pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Minneapolis. The first production, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, was presented in 2010 with 40 church members and two additional musicians involved.

There was a touching side to the story of how the production came to be. Pastor Froslee said, “A former music director at Calvary and member, Nancy Grover, and three other members of the congregation brought forward the idea as a way of building connections in the community and having fun raising money for the church. Prior to the production, Nancy passed away. The musical took on significance as a dream she was a part of … and the on-going building up of the community.”

In November the Calvary Theatrical Production Team presented Nunsense. That show had five actors and one understudy. Others involved were the producer, a crew of four who worked on sets and costumes, six who worked on musical production, eight on publicity and sponsorships and 10 on the ticket counter and intermission refreshments. Average attendance ran around 105 compared to 180 at each of three presentations of Joseph. The next production at Calvary is scheduled for May of 2013. For more information, call 612/827-2504 or e-mail pastor brad@clchurch.org.

Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd
4801 France Avenue South
Minneapolis

Musical/dramatic productions got underway in 2010 with presentations of Scrooge and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, says Tor Johnson who joined the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church (ELCA) staff that year as director of performing arts. As part of the church’s Summer Musical Theater Camp that year, a production of School House Rock Live Jr. was offered.

At Christmas 2011, Good Shepherd presented Oliver, and will do The Other Carpenter for Lent 2012. For the summer, Johnson has scheduled High School Musical Jr. Three to four productions per year are planned with 50-60 people involved. Johnson says attendance usually runs between 200 and 300 for each of three or four performances. Some costs are covered by freewill donations. Performances are in the church sanctuary utilizing a portable stage.

Johnson says of the outreach/member spiritual development aspect, “I don’t know the exact percentage, but a large number of our audience members are not members of the church. Almost all of our performers are members of the church for our holiday, Lenten, and spring productions, but our summer theater camp is mostly made up of non-members. We always have a different member of the cast — children and adults — lead devotions before each rehearsal and performance, which enhances the spiritual connectedness of our time together.”

Johnson can be contacted at 612/927-8849 or tor.johnson@goodshepherdmpls.org.

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
2730 East 31st Street
Minneapolis

Peter Johnson of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (ELCA) traced the history of musical/drama at his church. “The Holy Trinity Theatre Circle was founded in 1994. In late 1993 the church choir presented a semi-staged production of Kurt Weill’s musical Lost in the Stars, based on the South African apartheid novel Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. The success of that production prompted discussion about creating a permanent theater group at Holy Trinity.

“Our ‘mission statement’ indicated that we would choose plays from the standard theatrical repertoire (as opposed to ‘church plays’) with a socially- or theologically-relevant theme that could foster dialogue within the Holy Trinity community. With virtually no budget or any stage facilities to speak of, our first production, presented in May 1994, was the classic Thornton Wilder drama, Our Town.

“We’re an all-volunteer organization. We are also inter-generational as much as possible. Nearly all of our productions will include youth along with adults of all ages working side by side as equals. This is such great fun, and the adults love working with the kids as much as the kids like being part of an ‘adult’ activity.”

Persons interested in the Holy Trinity Theatre Circle may contact Peter Johnson at peterj911@comcast.net.

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