Drama & Faith: The Tradition
Scripture itself holds drama: within these ancient texts we meet characters whose dilemmas and dreams let loose pivotal, life-altering decisions—the action. The plot ripens as characters consider what they will do, which way they will choose. The speech and action (thoughts, emotions, and deeds) make the stories come alive. The authors crafted them with the hope that something in the message would strike the audience and produce a real effect—capable of making the audience sit up in the pew or theater seat, stirring a new awareness.
And yet it is one thing to hear a story, and quite another to feel dramatic conflict and become caught up in the traps, troubles, and hopes of the characters.
Play acting as part of worship harkens back, so far as we know, to 11th century Europe. As a complement to the formal liturgy, then still spoken in Latin, Christian clergy began to incorporate liturgical dramas—spoken in German, or French, or English—for the masses who could not otherwise understand the message. Hearing—and seeing—holy stories in the familiar words spoken in the home and market place re-excited the hearts and imaginations of the medieval mind.
In the purest sense, the clergy of the Middle Ages were evangelizing their own parishioners with the introduction of liturgical drama.
Why Acts of Faith Now?
Though 16th century Protestants purged the use of liturgical drama in religious ritual, the inextricable link between faith and drama was never completely lost.
Many modern playwrights—Shakespeare led the way—weave wisdom teachings into their plays. We can come away from Romeo and Juliet, for example, musing on the tragic, misguided passions of youth, or we can look for yet even deeper understanding: when families perpetuate hate from one generation to the next, parents will lose their children.
As Second Presbyterian grapples with the harsh realities and hopes of this new day and age, it feels the evangelizing spirit that called the Church of the Middle Ages to drama. We are not so very different at our core. Broadly speaking, we at Second Presbyterian Church sponsor this winter theater festival to invite ourselves and others—all of Richmond—to think through what it is to live life, to live in community, to seek peace and understanding between and among people. Just what does it take? We offer each of these plays as a prompt for spiritual discernment.