By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Members of Hope Church – formerly First Evangelical Church – have worked their hands to the bone over the past two months to resurrect an old tradition, their musical dramatic celebration of the Easter story entitled “The Hope of Easter.”
Holiday dramas, once a staple of the church and community, have not been enacted on the church’s stage for over six years. But Worship Pastor Jon Ginn said this year they are bringing them back.
“I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who has lived in Tupelo for a while that doesn’t remember the productions this church put on,” Ginn said. “At the height of them, about 10 years ago, we were doing eight performances over six nights. Every showing was packed, and nearly full on dress rehearsals.”
A tradition renewed
Originally, the drama ministry was the vision of director Tom Wilson, who found the medium of theater an effective vehicle for delivering the gospel. Ginn said the shows grew from their humble beginnings to being viewed by thousands of attendees.
When Wilson left in 2003, the tradition carried on another year before falling by the wayside.
“There were some changes in leadership and we were transitioning into a new building and the productions were just too much to continue,” Ginn said.
After the completion of the new facilities, the tradition remained untouched. Ginn even left Hope church for a season, returning in 2011 to step into the role of worship pastor. It was in his first Easter back that he felt God tugging at his heart to revive the dramas of memory.
“I prayed about it. I wanted to make sure it was what God wanted, not just what I wanted,” he said. “Last year’s production was small. It was simple, but powerful, and I felt the need to expand it.”
When the time was right, about eight weeks ago, Ginn gathered a crew of leaders together. He chose them for their skills – the talent for building sets, conducting music, directing actors – and ask them what they thought of the idea.
“They were ready to start that afternoon,” Ginn said.
Hope Church’s congregation was equally excited, and members lent a hand in any way they could. By Ginn’s estimation, around 250 individuals contributed to the play’s production in some part.
“We have two goals with this program,” he said. “The first is to bring people to Christ through the Easter message. The second is to grow as a church family.”
Featuring 14 songs, large sets, live animals, and elaborate lighting and sound effects, the 90-minute production would have been impossible to achieve without the collective effort of the church as a whole. Through rehearsals, set construction, and anticipation, Ginn said the relationship of congregants has broadened as well as deepened.
“That’s one thing we really wanted to bring back,” he said. “Anyone who was around during the old days could tell you about the family atmosphere at this church.”
in the groove
Many leaders at Hope Church see “The Hope of Easter” as a sign that the church is finally finding its groove again after an uncertain period of internal shifts and rebranding. In 2007, the church changed its name from First Evangelical Church to Hope Church with the intention of dispelling denominational connotations. However, it would be years before the right pastor came to the pulpit.
“The excitement about ‘The Hope of Easter’ is coming on the heels of Scooter Noland becoming our lead pastor,” said Mike Russell, media director for the church for the past four years. “When I came here the church was very quiet. We had a few pastors come and go, but when [Noland], one of our own, stepped into the role it just felt right.”
Noland came to the church as a student pastor in January of 2009, but soon advanced to the role of associate pastor, where he remained until September of 2012.
“I think of Easter as an opportunity for new beginnings, to experience new life,” he said. “I think of II Corinthians 5:17, which says, ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,’ and I think that speaks to a lot of what is going on here.”
Brandon Wilemon, student pastor at Hope Church, said the energy within the congregation is tangible.
“There is this expectancy among the people here. They’re eager for things like [the production],” he said.
Ginn agreed, pointing to the church’s mission trips to Spain, Cuba, and Peru, as an outlet for the church’s urging to enact its faith.
“Everything here is a team effort,” Ginn said. “Together, we are working to put on this production as a gift to the community.”
“THE HOPE OF EASTER” will be performed on March 29 and March 30. Doors will open at 6 P.M. and the program will start at 7 P.M. For more information contact Hope Church Tupelo at (662) 844-8522.