Jesus ascends into heaven during “The Messiah,” a theatrical production about the Easter story presented by Victorious Life Church in Conyers. (Special Photo)
With more than 100 cast and crew members, “The Messiah” will be presented this weekend by Victorious Life Church and offered to the community in celebration of Easter.
This will be the fourth year the church has performed the full-scale theatrical drama, which has been compared in some ways to the Atlanta Passion Play. Based on the Bible and put in script form by church member Dana Cline, the production has become an annual event in Conyers.
“‘The Messiah’ is bigger and better this year,” Cline said. “…There are a lot of changes this year that will keep even the faithful yearly attenders interested. The story this year comes from the viewpoint of Mary, the mother of Jesus; Mary Magdalene and John, a disciple of Jesus. It takes a look through their eyes of how they saw Him as their son, their healer and their teacher. It gives us a more personal view of what it was like to walk with Jesus through drama and song.”
“The Messiah” will be presented on April 18 and 19 at 7 p.m. and on April 20 at 10:30 a.m. at the church, which is located at 1615 Old McDonough Highway in Conyers. Admission is free.
While the Bible story remains the same, each production is different and scenes and songs for “The Messiah” change each year. Members of VLC have been rehearsing since January in preparation for this year’s presentation and the sanctuary has been transformed into a Holy Land set.
“It takes months to put on a production this large with a dedicated group of volunteers,” VLC Music Pastor Gary Waterman said. “It’s tiring, no doubt, but after you see it and the reaction it receives from believers and non-believers alike, we’ll do it all over again. It’s definitely worth it.”
Cline, the daughter of a minister who grew up watching Easter dramas, said after she wrote her first script for “The Messiah” more than 20 years ago, it became a calling for her. The Maryland church where the production debuted, has been presenting “The Messiah” for 17 years.
Cline has written new “Messiah” scripts through the years and has been invited to a number of other churches to help them start a similar production. Each script presents the Easter message and uses biblical characters to tell the story.
“I really have mixed emotions about playing a Roman soldier, especially the crucifixion scene, but we are telling the story as it must be told according to the Bible,” VLC member and performer Herb Stokes said. “At the end of the day, if it’s about reaching just one person, then it’s all worth it.”
Cline said “The Messiah” is different than many other productions in that it is not a book program that churches buy and perform.
“It’s very unique,” she said. “No one else has this program. It’s very powerful. Everyone who comes and sees it says, ‘I’ve never seen anything like that before.’”
The production, which runs about 90 minutes, features drama, special effects, live music, original artwork and other features all done by church members who volunteer their time and talents.
“It is a privilege and a humbling experience to play the character of Pilate,” VLC member and performer Jose Quinones said. “The purpose is to let the Lord speak through us, so we give it all we have to make it real, compelling and life changing for each person in attendance.”
Stories have been shared through the years of how the drama has affected the lives of those who have seen it performed, but it also leaves a lasting impression on many of those who help bring it to life.
“I play one of the Pharisees and I would be labeled the bad guy, but my part has affected me by… being the one that gets Jesus crucified,” VLC member and performer Armand Mitchom said. “In truth, I get to sit back and oversee all the great things that He did and really see how amazing His love is for everyone.”
“The Messiah” has become an annual tradition for VLC and Waterman said it has been the church’s goal since the beginning to present it as a gift to the community free of charge.
Beth Slaughter Sexton is a freelance writer based in Gwinnett County. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.