Church resurrects Easter pageant, brings life into congregation

For the past week, 20-year-old Michael Hudson has finished his role in the Easter story dripping in sweat.

He clutched his plastic breastplate during First Baptist Church's Easter pageant Sunday while he waited before playing the Roman soldier who nails Jesus to a wooden cross.

"We're probably doing the most emotional parts of the entire play," he said, standing in his ancient soldier garb before going on stage.

During the play he and three others lift a 220-pound Jesus, nail him to a wooden cross and raise both above the altar in one of the most defining moments in the Christian faith.

After more than 10 years, the church resurrected its Easter pageant, something members say has brought fellowship and life into their congregation.

"It feels like family," said Dennis Turpin, worship pastor at the church who directed the play. "It's just like sitting around in your living room. The people are the sets. They're the ones that make it come alive."

The play is simple, there's little background, no set changes or extravagant costuming, but in the intimate church setting the roles become more than acting to some.

"It's tough," said Stephen Smith, 31, who plays Jesus. "I always knew what he did, but you kind of feel the betrayal of the Jewish people. To be betrayed by some of the people that you love - that's sad."

The drama cycled through a range of emotions from joy at Jesus' birth to the sadness of his death.

Smith said he believed the story is more important than ever in a time when many are becoming disillusioned with religion and the country becomes less Christian.

"I think it's very important to show that as people are turning away from the church, he's still the king that died for us on the cross," he said.

With little to start with, the church created and borrowed costumes, refurbished a cross and picked up special offerings to fund the show.

E.J. Fernandez, 14, creatively made his own costume, a tattered tunic for his role as the prodigal son, who is forced to live with pigs before returning to his father.

"I got it and rolled it around in the mud and tore it up a lot," he said, smiling.

"It's really fun because it illustrates going back home to your dad and him taking you in with open arms," he said, referring to his role.

But it's that same devotion Turpin believes is what helps bring the cast together and the drama a success.

"The main thing we have is the people have a passion to do these kinds of things," he said. "So it succeeds."