If you should walk into a church this summer and find Mary Magdalene testifying to the healing power of Jesus, or Ruth of the Old Testament holding forth on the essential nature of love, don't be shocked.
Just be ready to appreciate the artistry and spirituality of actress Anita Gutschik, who has made these "Women of the Bible" come alive in a series of one-woman dramatic presentations she has been performing lately at local churches.
The Arnold woman already was known in the area for her work with community theater organizations such as Colonial Players and Maryland Hall's Story Theater, but her character studies of Biblical figures such as Ruth, Sarah, Miriam, Mary Magdalene and Priscilla are now reaching audiences of a different nature.
"Women in the Bible" took shape in Anita Gutschik's mind shortly after she volunteered to entertain at a dinner at Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church in Severna Park.
"I still don't know what I was thinking when I said, 'I'll do it,' " she says with a laugh. "But that's when the idea of portraying these characters really hit me."
Before long, she had researched the lives of Biblical women, written her own monologues, purchased wigs, costumes and a sound system, and incorporated music into her characterizations.
Gutschik, who also works as a Stephen Minister -- a lay person helping others in stressful times -- is quick to point out that her monologues are all her own.
So original, in fact, that they change frequently in scope and content. "The Bible was my outline, not my script," she says.
Indeed, what seems to capture audiences most are her attempts to bring the characters to life in an interactive manner.
"I select a theme for each woman, so that their words and thoughts can develop a particular idea," she says.
For Ruth, the Moabite woman who devotedly followed her mother-in-law, Naomi, to a foreign land and became an ancestor of King David, ancient Israel's most heroic and beloved figure, that theme is love.
"Have you loved deeply and richly?" she'll ask her audience. "Have you allowed love to transform your life?"
These searching questions were added to her monologues only after she'd written the scripts, sewn all the costumes, performed everything in front of a mirror and realized, finally, that something was missing.
"An hour before my first show, I sat in church and asked for God's help," she recalls. " 'What's missing,' I wondered.
"At that point," she added, "I realized that what I needed to do was not just tell the stories but use these characters to preach messages of love, hospitality and the sharing of faith. I'd researched the facts, but it wasn't until I sat down and turned it over to God that the apple really got polished."