Each spring, as Easter draws near, the focus of the church turns to the central narrative of the Christian faith: Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Many congregations seek creative ways to “tell the old, old story” in a new way to help 21st-century people connect to first-century events.
At First Lutheran Church, Colorado Springs, Colo., members do more than imagine themselves in the shoes of the disciples: they step into the passion story, as depicted by some of history’s best-known artists. Donning costumes, wigs and makeup, surrounded by meticulously painted backdrops and props, they create a “Gallery of Living Art,” re-enacting famous works such as Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” and Michelangelo’s “Pietà.”
First’s gallery was started 20 years ago by staff members Joan Kuehn and Judy Wach, who were inspired by a similar program at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, Garden Grove, Calif.
The first year’s presentation was modest: five scenes on a newly built stage, with minimal lighting and a black curtain, offered to 150 people one snowy Sunday afternoon. Two decades later, First’s gallery offers a program of more than a dozen scenes, spanning the life of Jesus from the nativity to the resurrection and accompanied by narration and choral music.
The audience has also grown. Last year 1,500 people attended four presentations in one weekend.
Kuehn and Wach credit the Spirit with the growth of the gallery, pointing out that members who volunteer their time on stage or behind the scenes provide every aspect of the presentation. A cast of 60 to 70, ranging in age from 4 to 80, portrays the characters; a 70-person choir sings pieces chosen to accompany each scene; and a crew of 10 handles lighting, staging, costuming and makeup.
“It’s been a joy to see all the gifts and talents that have gone into it,” Kuehn said.
Enter: The Bauer family
Some of those gifts and talents come from three generations of one family. Mike and Cindy Bauer, longtime members, have participated in every gallery.
Mike has portrayed Pilate, Jesus, Thomas and Simon of Cyrene; Cindy has provided art, created props and helped direct the production. Their three daughters grew up in the cast; later, two sons-in-law joined in.
Now two of their three grandchildren, Addison and Lillie Weis, also take part (Mike Bauer says his youngest grandson “still wiggles” so he’s not ready). Addison, 6, enjoys the gallery because “I get to wear a costume … and I will be standing really, really, really still.”
Cindy Bauer said, “For my family, it’s a spiritual thing … to know they’re part of telling the story.” As a director, she tries to cultivate that same understanding in the whole cast.
Even when she talks with the youngest actors, Bauer tries to help them feel connected to their characters. “I tell them, ‘You’re the children who get to talk to Jesus. That’s you!’ ” she said.
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© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers