Worship without words

Youngsters transport congregation into the Passion with mime Stations of the Cross
April 16, 2007

Sometimes, it pays to get the silent treatment.

Church of the Saviour in Denville, New Jersey, commemorated Good Friday with a service portraying the Stations of the Cross in mime. In what has become an annual tradition, an intergenerational troupe of parishioners silently re-enacted the Passion, freezing in tableau at each station. Three readers provided narration, reflection and prayer for each station, while the congregation sang a Taize chant between stations.

The 11 performers -- most aged 8 to 14 -- dressed completely in black except for James Mathison as Jesus, who wore a white shirt. An oval of white makeup highlighted each face; Mathison's makeup added a black vertical line beneath each eye, resembling tears.

For the final station, several performers hoisted the 13-year-old Jesus in the air and carried him feet-first out of the darkened sanctuary, with a weeping Mary and other women following. A loud thump signaled the rock sealing the tomb. After a prayer, the service ended with the congregation singing Were You There When They Crucified My Lord.

"It was very powerful," said Denise Callahan, who ordinarily worships at a Roman Catholic church and attended the service with friends. "I've never seen it done with so many children. It really put it in a new perspective, and it really made it personal to my life. It was very moving."

"It makes you stop and think," said parishioner Cathy Jensen. "It's just much more than just reading it."
Parishioner Cathy Lawson joined the congregation after performing in the stations for five years. "This is just so much fun to watch," she said during rehearsal. "I know everything that's going to happen, but it's like I want to feel it as a spectator instead of being part of a cast of characters." Afterward, she reported the experience had been "very emotional."

The church's rector, the Rev. Beverly Huck, was searching for a way to involve young people in Saviour's contemporary-style Good Friday evening worship service when she found the mime liturgy on the Internet, posted by a woman who in turn discovered it at a Cursillo retreat. The woman had adapted and used the script and offered it for others to use.

"The first time we did it, during the rehearsal, the kids were just cutting up," Huck recalled. One of the adults was very upset. But during the worship service, the youngsters mimed their parts with serious, straight faces. Afterward, tears streamed down the face of the erstwhile angry adult. "He couldn't believe how moved he was by the whole experience."

Unlike that adult, stations director Scott Bennett, doesn't worry that the youngsters won't take their roles seriously or perform well after only a couple of rehearsals. "I have absolute faith that they're going to have it right," he said. "I have never seen this fail."

Usually the cast includes more teens, but this year several younger children participated. "It is something that they really do look forward to, and I think the congregation has embraced it," Huck said. Compared to the traditional, ecumenical Stations of the Cross she attended at a Roman Catholic church that afternoon, she added, "This is far more visual, and the impact, I think, is far more emotional."

It's also a learning experience for the children.

"It was really hard to be serious, but it was fun at the same time," said Diana Cavaliere, 11, who portrayed Veronica. "I learned all about, like, everything that happened on Easter and why we celebrate it. All I knew about Easter before was the Easter Bunny."

"Exactly," said Debbie Osborn, 11, who joined the cast with her three male cousins. A first-year performer, she portrayed the Roman centurion.

"It was a little difficult to learn what you were supposed to do, where you were supposed to stand and how you were supposed to do it," she said. Portraying one of Jesus' persecutors, "it's like you're being a real bully."

Diana found her part moving. "When I go to wipe Jesus' face, I can see it in his eyes. It's like you're really there. He's, like, pleading."

"It's weird," Debbie said, "how people get into the role, and it's like you're actually the person."
The lesson for the congregation, she said, is "maybe thinking that it's not really good to be mean to people."

And they "think about what happened to Jesus," Diana added.

As for Mathison, portraying Jesus for a second time was "cool."

"It feels good," he said. "I guess it makes it kind of more real."

Related Topics: