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Annual church play growing in size, impact

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”  That is a question that one often dwells on in youth.

For Jane Keppers,  Religious Education coordinator and director of a play entitled Journey with Jesus to Calvary,  she admits to never having the vision that she would be coordinating a religion program or directing a play.

It all started six years ago in 2009 when Keppers, as teacher and coordinator at St. Francis of Assisi (near Albany), was inspired to put together a small-scale presentation of historical characters who encountered Jesus on his journey to Calvary.  Her plan was to have a character visit the religious education students each week  to tell their story of encountering Jesus and recount the events of Holy Week and the period leading up to the death of Jesus. Her main goal was to work off of the emotions of each character to truly impact what the students heard.  What started as a vision to educate a few became a mission to deliver a message to many.

Each year’s performance brought forth new actors, additional parts, and fresh ideas from the participants, and tremendous growth. The inspiration that started with Jane has grown to today’s performance involving more than 60 individuals.

When asked why Jane and others from the parish spend so many hours preparing for the performances of Journey with Jesus to Calvary, Jane admits that at first the goal was simply to instruct the students.  From there it moved to performing an inspiring performance for the public.  The play participants were truly inspired and realized how their performances were affecting people who attended.  It was a good thing for those participating and those attending.

“The performance grabs people in different ways,” she said. “It brings before your eyes all those things you read about during Holy Week. A mother in the audience might feel the pain of Mary as she talks about her beloved son, while a man sitting center aisle may be angry and feel the urge to grab the soldier who whips Jesus as he falls under the weight of the cross. Another person might think differently about the position Pilate was put in when Jesus was brought before him and consider, ‘what would I have done if I were in his place?’ And everyone laughs at the stubborn donkey.”

The parishioners of St. Francis have used their talents in ways they never envisioned, said Keppers.

“Actors with tremendous acting abilities who thought they solely farmed are now practicing their lines while milking cows, seamstresses who thought they knew only how to patch jeans are now sewing distinguishing costumes, and laborers who weld and use a hammer during the week are now building a cross and creating a donkey with character,” she said.

On her list of “wanna be’s,” Jane never had religious education coordinator or director of a play but she believes God put her here for a reason.

“I think God wanted me to be the messenger – to create that domino effect. Play participants have been inspired by God working in them and truly feel the emotion they are conveying to the audience. They often speak of how much more meaning the play has brought to them during Holy Week.  They deliver a message that they feel down deep inside. You can hear it in their voices and see it in their actions.  They speak of the special bond they feel in working so closely on a project of this magnitude. What really makes an impact and fuels that inspiration is seeing and hearing from the audience. Tears are commonly seen in the crowd throughout the performance. You can see the emotion in their eyes at the conclusion of the play.”

This year’s performances of Journey with Jesus to Calvary will be held at St. Francis (located between Albany and Upsala on State Highway 238) on Friday, April 11, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, April 12, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 13, at 1 p.m.  There is no cost, but there will be a free-will offering to benefit religious education program.

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