Celebrating Easter through words, song

Programs: A Columbia church's services this weekend will take a multimedia approach.

April 18, 2003|By Donna W. Payne | Donna W. Payne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Columbia's Bridgeway Community Church expects 2,000 people or more to attend its five nontraditional Easter programs tomorrow and Sunday at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre.

The highlight of Bridgeway's Easter services will be a multimedia musical drama -- Paradise Cafe -- written, produced and acted by church staff and members. The program features a contemporary band and choir, and storytelling through poetry, song, comedy and video.

Bridgeway is a nontraditional, evangelical and multiracial congregation that holds its regular Sunday worship services at Smith Theatre. The church uses the theater's professional stage equipment to present musical, dramatic and artistic presentations that illustrate each week's sermon theme. "We have a total creative arts ministry, so we have a creative angle every week," said Bridgeway's senior pastor, the Rev. David Anderson.

"We feel like in order to communicate to today's culture, you've got to communicate in today's language," he said.

Bridgeway mounts a "big deal" creative production each Christmas and Easter, Anderson said. But this is the first year that it will add two Saturday services to its regular three-service Sunday lineup.

Rich Becker, Bridgeway's full-time executive director for creative arts, said that Paradise Cafe is a presentation of the Easter story "through firsthand accounts of people who walked and talked with Jesus." But, he said, instead of presenting the characters in a standard biblical setting with traditional costuming, the setting will be staged as a "very typical Earthlike cafe."

"We've created a cafe, called the `Paradise Cafe' [in] which the setting is actually in heaven," Becker said. "And so we are listening to these biblical heroes, if you will, talking about their experiences when they met Jesus and what his death and resurrection meant to them.

"It's kind of an open-mike night for biblical heroes," Becker added.

Becker said that a surprise element of the story involves an angel who returns to Earth and brings back a present-day individual to the cafe -- "someone everyone will know." The audience will view life on modern Earth and the angel's activities through prerecorded video scenes.

Becker wrote the script and did the video work. Jon Waller, Bridgeway's music ministry leader, composed the music and lyrics. Other volunteers contributed some of the poetry and dialogue for the 45-minute production.

"You can expect to laugh, you can expect to cry, [and to have] a complete spiritual experience," Waller said.

"We want to give God all the glory," said Anne Smith, executive assistant to Anderson. Smith plays the part of the woman who met Jesus at Jacob's well in Samaria. She said that the play will "give people a different feel for Easter," and help them "experience God on a different level."

Waller and Smith said that Bridgeway is unusual in its ethnic diversity and that its leaders have purposely chosen to develop their own original productions to suit the church's culturally diverse crowd.

"The arts, especially music, is something that brings people together inside and outside the church. ... [and] brings cultures together," Waller said.

Worshipers at last weekend's Palm Sunday services experienced a sample of the type of creative talents that Bridgeway will showcase Saturday and Sunday. The music of a high-energy vocal ensemble, and a poignant drama about an infertile couple's dashed hopes for adopting a child, prepared the congregation for the Palm Sunday sermon, "When Hope Is as Dead as a Doornail."

For Easter, Anderson said, the essential message of his brief sermon will be highlighted through the story presented in Paradise Cafe.

"The bottom line of the whole skit ... is the fact that even though we're not in Paradise right now, even though we're not a hero of the faith like ... Moses or Peter or Mary, we still can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ down here today, right now," he said.

All presentations of "Paradise Cafe" are at Smith Theatre on the campus of Howard Community College in Columbia: at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. tomorrow; at 8:15 a.m., 10 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. Sunday. No charge for admission. Information: www.bridgewaycommunity church.com.

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