We are approaching the last week of February, which means that my TimeHop, Google Photo memories, social media and the basic muscle memory of my mind is telling me that we should be heading into tech week for a church musical.
Instead, I am still working to return costumes and set pieces from the last production. Annie: The Musical was the last thing to happen in the sanctuary before the COVID lockdown; the props and costumes still lay in state in the choir room in a way that is almost ghostly at this point. A “to-do” list left undone. A grim reminder of the pieces we were going to give to a nice church planning to do the show last summer; a chilling contrast to know that sometimes the show can’t go on – even when you feel it must.
I have been a part of many challenging shows across my decades of performing but I can honestly say: that production was the hardest thing I have ever participated in as a leader. At more than a few moments, I had to remind myself that we were already selling tickets and there was no going back.
When Sterling Church first started doing musicals, it was something that wasn’t being done at many other churches – certainly not in this area. We made the jump from smaller, church proportioned one acts to a fully licensed piece of musical theater with Godspell. As a church, you have a few years of theatrical “low hanging fruit” – the shows everyone expects you to do (Godspell, Children of Eden, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) but you eventually either need to venture out, or back.
And back never felt like a good option.
So we stumbled into some of my very favorite years of musicals; shows with complicated decisions and unlikely heroes. Shows with something to point to, shows that ended with a happily ever after (sometimes several!) And…shows that made people look at me and say “What, exactly, does this have to do with Jesus?”
And the answer was always the same: Ministry.
Because in the end, the actual performance was the smallest part to me. Yes, we always wanted to do our best because we worked for the glory of God. Yes, we wanted to sell tickets because the lights don’t run on prayer (usually) and it costs money to do these things. Yes, I wanted every single soul involved in these projects to stand back that one glorious, exhausting weekend and feel like they had been a part of an offering worthy of what they had put into it.
But the real magic has always been behind the curtain. In exhausted rehearsals and late night light cues; in prayer when we should be rehearsing and laughter when we needed to get serious an hour ago. In group chats where everyone decides to wear pajamas to rehearsal, and invites someone who may not be signed up yet to come on the mission trips because they are just so amazing. In a herd of teenagers, all joyfully dancing and singing to a collection of preschool songs with an autistic 5th grader.
In a cast, independently huddling in a prayer circle backstage every night, silently offering the show to the Pastor whose death inspired us to make our show about courageous hope and joy.
In the midst of challenges and heartache we can lose sight of the when, the how or the what of these shows, but we never forget the why.
It isn’t the performance that’s important; its the ministry.
And so even though the show may be at intermission, it goes on.