West Michigan Church Uses Theater for Community Outreach

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Jodi Cole Meyer believes strongly in the use of theater as a tool for reaching others. Cole Meyer is the director of outreach and arts at EverGreen Ministries, a Christian Reformed congregation in Hudsonville, Mich.

For the past nine years, EverGreen has staged numerous theater productions, offering opportunities for area residents to join in either on stage or behind the scenes. The church most recently held three performances of “The Scarlet Pimpernel”—the story of an English nobleman who rescued people from the guillotine while in disguise during the early stages of the French Revolution

“There has been such a break between artists and the church. It breaks my heart because they both seek God,” said Cole Meyer, who directed the production. “Artists are afraid they’re going to be censored, and the church is afraid it’s going to be messy. I believe art is a profound way to understand God.”

About 60 people were involved in the production, with more than half coming from outside the church. Several church members, such as Rick Waldmiller, joined EverGreen after having been involved in the theater productions. Waldmiller said he was drawn to the church by the strong sense of community he experienced through the theater.

“[The church is] very accepting. People are willing to meet you where you are, wherever that is,” said Waldmiller, who worked on choreography and lighting for “The Scarlet Pimpernel” production. “To have people who had no idea who I was accept me instantaneously, it felt like home.”

Cole Meyer, who holds a theater degree, stressed that the productions have a professional feel to them. She usually picks out plays that have a redemptive theme, although she said that in no way is the script changed to reflect a particular spiritual outcome. She noted that while “The Scarlet Pimpernel” is not an outwardly Christian play, it has themes that are consistent with Christian values.

“[The main character] risks everything to go across the [English] Channel to help people who aren’t necessarily close to him,” Cole Meyer said. “That’s what our call for Christ is—to help those who need help. It’s a risky, crazy way to live.”

Cast members memorized Matthew 25—the passage where Jesus speaks of serving “the least of these.” They also prayed prior to rehearsals and performances.

“We don’t demand you be a Christian (to be in our productions), but we will show you what it means to be a Christian and what a Christian community could and should look like,” Cole Meyer said.

Next up for EverGreen is a traveling production of a children’s story that will be presented at local schools.

About the Author

Greg Chandler is a freelance news correspondent for The Banner. He lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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