WESTMINSTER — When he preached parables to the multitudes in Jerusalem, Jesus attempted to convey glimpses of his kingdom.
Today, some 2,000 years later, an area church hopes to re-create this experience for a modern audience.
To celebrate Lent, Westminster United Methodist Church will present Jesus' teachings in a dramatic performance of the Gospel of Mark.
The production, scheduled for 7 p.m. Sunday in the church edifice,is designed to prepare the congregation for the events of Easter week, said Associate Pastor Chris Wood.
"You can't experience Easter joy without experiencing the pains and trials of Holy Week," said Wood, who is reading the lines of Christ. "This production will hopefully enrich the experience of Holy Week for everyone."
Carolyn Scott,director of the performance, said the members try to present all theHoly Week events since some people do not attend Lenten services during the week.
"All they know are the hallelujahs of Palm Sunday and the glories of rising from the tomb," she said. "They don't know the agonies that led up to Easter."
The biblical passages are fairly lengthy, so the group presents the story creatively, using reader'stheater techniques, Scott said. This year's production was inspired by Alec McGowan's one-man show "The Gospel of Mark."
"I heard an interview with him on the 'Today' show and thought it was an interesting idea to present," she said. "The idea originated with his presentation, but it has become totally unique after working with the group."
The biblical book of Mark -- thought by scholars to be the firstgospel written -- begins with Jesus' parables and teachings, continuing through the crucifixion and resurrection.
The book is known as the shortest gospel and also the most conversational, and the group ishoping their presentation will re-create the experience of hearing Christ speak on the shores of Galilee.
"In reader's theater technique, you focus the character on a point above the heads of the audience," said Scott. "We hope the audience will feel part of the production and part of the crowd listening to Jesus."
In addition, the performers said they don't think of themselves as actors, just messengersof the biblical story.
"I don't feel I'm an actor," said MargaretHays, who is reading the parts of Jesus' opponents. "I'm trying to have the Gospel of Mark speak through me in the voices I'm portraying."
Wood agreed, saying that in reading Jesus' lines, he is attempting to show the range of emotions Christ felt during that time.
"There's a real richness in the text and you're always discovering something new," he said. "There's a lot of humor in the gospel and some very poignant moments. Jesus was very human and yet he was divine."
Staging for the production is very simple to allow people to focus onthe text.
"We want people to concentrate on the Scriptures," Woodsaid. "That's the real star."
The four readers -- Wood, Hayes andtwo narrators, Scott, and Michael Billingslea -- will sit on wooden stools, as will the "readers choir" that reads the part of the crowd.An 11-member music choir will sit on either side of the stage.
Scott said the altar will remain bare, except for a black shroud drapedover the cross.
"We debated on placing it up there, since the first part deals with the teachings of Jesus," she said. "But the symbolof the cross is significant. It's always in the background, and it'sthe reason he came."
Musical selections, coordinated by church music director Dee Kinney, have been woven throughout the two-hour performance.
"Since the production of the whole book is so lengthy, wewanted to intersperse music but didn't want to lengthen the production," Kinney said. "So, we began to search for music that is absolutely scriptural."
Biblical passages set to music -- in hymns and solos -- were found, as well as some parables and songs that compliment the story line.
"Most of them are (completely biblical), but a few are just reinforcements" Kinney said. "For example, the entire parable of the mustard seed is in song."
However, the performers said they feel the biggest challenge is presenting the story without sounding like they are reading.
"It's a challenge to make it sound as much as possible someone telling a story," Billingslea said. "It's neat trying to bring people in there and relate the story through our eyes."