I have long admired the movie-making ministry of St. Paul’s, Auckland in New Zealand. Each year I eagerly await their annual Christmas video. This year I got tired of waiting so I let my admiration finally prompt me into action, emulating their work in my own parish. Watching the fun these New Zealand children have acting out these sacred stories, I was convinced that I had an easy recipe for success. I only needed a film crew, an acting coach, special effect/props guy and someone to teach me how to make a movie.
“Ever the optimist, I enthusiastically started talking about this idea with folks in the parish. These conversations lead me to recruit from our parish a professional videographer and producer (Michael Fairchild), an equity-actress willing to serve as the acting coach (Regina Schneider), and I have become the props and special effects guy. After a couple of meetings, we devised a game plan to attempt an initial movie. We decided to let our inspiration from the New Zealand videos lead us. We would shoot kids acting out the scenes of the Nativity story, using costumes from the Christmas pageant, and adding narration after the fact.
With sports on the wane and our children’s choirs on break for summer, the perfect window to make the film emerged in June by assuming their Wednesday afternoon rehearsal time. It became a Vacation Bible School of sorts with a 21st century flavor. We allotted four 90-minute workshops — one to teach some rudimentary acting skills and learn the Christmas story and three to shoot the video and record the narration. The script for the narration was drafted with the children’s input based on the scenes that we had filmed. You can watch a behind-the-scenes making of the movie here, which may give you more insight to the creative process. The end product, the film Christmas in June, was a gift we were able to share with the whole parish at the start of stewardship season. We plan to share it again during the Christmas season and hope you will share this film with your parish community then, too.
The success of the program has prompted us to create a second film, Performing Parables, which seeks to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?,” by enacting some of the events of his life and parables from his ministry. With this second film, we have added special effects into the venture. With the help of our sexton, I constructed an underwater plank to create the illusion of Jesus walking on water. Building the plank was easy compared to the prospect of convincing the child playing Peter to fall into the chilly waters of the lake on an October morning.
Creating these films has been a lot of work, but it was well worth the time and the effort. We have given the kids an opportunity to engage the sacred stories in their terms, with their own words. These films allow God to be known to them and to us. That’s what the story of Christmas is all about, incarnation: God being made present in our human situation. As I watched the kids acting out the story of God’s incarnation, I felt God’s presence in a new way. As the kids embodied the story, laughing and horsing around, I felt God, too, was laughing in and through them. By acting out these stories from the Bible, the stories enter into the very bodies of the children. They know the stories in a new way.
If you would like to try a similar initiative at your parish, I am more than willing to consult, offer insight and brainstorm with you. Just shoot me an email (email@example.com) and we’ll explore the possibilities. To date, this filmmaking venture has been the most meaningful times of my ministry and probably the most fun too!
The Rev. Luke Fodor is the assistant rector of St. John’s Church in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, where he works with children, youth and young families. Having spent nearly 5 years working at Episcopal Relief & Development, Luke works to empower children and youth for God’s mission in this hurting world.