The Soul Purpose Plays have been created, developed, and written in workshops by members of the troupe under the direction of John Steven Paul, Professor of Theatre at Valparaiso University. The plays, based on Gospel texts selected for the Revised Common Lectionary, are designed to be performed as part of Christian worship services.
The beginnings of the Church can be traced back to the day that a mysterious young teacher arrived on the shore of Lake Gennesaret, entreated some fishermen to row him out onto the lake, and taught the eager crowds. As the mother of the sons of Zebedee tells this story, the action of that day unfolds. Suddenly, we are in the boat with Peter, James, and John and, when Jesus bids the men to cast their nets in the deep water, the miraculous draft of fishes happens all around us. In the end we hear our own names as the disciples are called to fish...for people!
(1 woman, 5 men, and chorus. Running time: 14 minutes)
The well-known events surrounding Jesus’ miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead beginning with family and friends making preparations for Lazarus’s funeral. After the miracle, the people of Bethany celebrate their friend and brother’s new life with feasting and dancing. At the height of the celebration, the scene shifts from first-century Palestine to the here and now. None of the joyful celebrating could have taken place unless Lazarus had died. New life cannot burst forth until something old has died. But the death to which the play refers is not only the death of the body, but also the death, the burial, and the casting off of old habits, old vices, old attitudes, and old circumstances of all kinds that keep us from being born anew to the life promised us by the Gospel. “It is from inside the tomb,” the playwright tells us, “that we hear the voice of Jesus: ‘Lazarus! Come forth!’”
(3 men. 3 women. Running time: 14 minutes.)
When Gretchen’s mother calls her at college to suggest that she take some of her precious vacation time to visit her great grandmother, Annie, in a nearby town, the college freshman is none too thrilled. To her surprise and delight, however, Gretchen’s first visit opens her to a world of love and wisdom, as well as a commitment to family that she would never have known had she not met Annie. Annie fills her own days with prayer for the members of her large family and her friends. Over the course of a month, she prays for each one, according to a large calendar on her wall. She doesn’t pray that they might acquire material things, but simply and fervently that God would keep them. Gretchen’s friendship and faithfulness to her great grandmother prompt the rest of the family to plan a reunion on the occasion of Annie’s ninetieth birthday, and everyone who’s invited comes. Annie passes away a few days prior to her birthday, however, which transforms the party into a time or remembrance of the woman who so faithfully remembered them.
(2 men, 4 women, and chorus. Running time 20 minutes).
Just who are the poor in spirit whom Jesus calls the “blessed,” and how are they blessed? As part of her temporary job as a lay minister at her church, Rachel leads a Bible class on the Sermon on the Mount. During the course of her class, members of the church come privately to share with Rachel their deepest personal pain. She comes to realize that these people are the “blessed” of whom Jesus spoke and that they have been a blessing to her. This play was first performed for All Saints Sunday, 2002.
(4 men, 3 women. Running time: 25 minutes.)
Matthew has two children, neither of whom he understands very well. In fact, he thinks them foolish. His son is a professional circus clown; his daughter is a street preacher. When Matthew stands up for a co-worker unjustly treated at work, he gets fired. Matthew feels like a fool himself until his son helps him to see that what he did for his coworker is exactly what the Lord requires of him and us.
(2 Men, 1 woman, 1 gender-neutral role. Running time: 20 minutes.)
When Adam, Janet’s husband of thirteen years, leaves her and their two children for a “twenty-something assistant,” Janet is devastated. She slowly puts her life back together. She returns to the church to which she once belonged and volunteers for the church’s emergency food center. Eight months after his departure, Adam calls and tells her he wants to come back home and resume their marriage as before. What is Janet to do? A chorus of tempting voices surrounds her. Some advise her to continue with her new, independent life. Adam presses her to end their separation. Her own tradition insists that divorce is wrong. How can she know which is God’s voice among all of these? The next Sunday, Janet is scheduled to be a Lectionary reader at her church on the first Sunday of Lent. As she practices reading the Gospel lesson, Luke 4, 1-13, the text speaks to her about putting temptations behind her so that she can truly be led by the Spirit. At the end of the play, Janet, free of the distracting voices around her, invites her husband to meet her at the church where they will try to discern God’s will for them.
(3 men, 3 women. Running time: 25 minutes.)
Then John the Baptist gave this testimony: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him…” But as John attempts to convince his disciples that he has truly seen the Lamb of God and that they must now follow him, they begin to worry. Will they really have to leave their long-time teacher behind; will they be able to walk away from him? The audience watches as the disciples face the possibility of leaving not only their teacher but also their families, their friends, their homes, and even their names behind them—all in response to Jesus’ simple request to “come and see.”
(4 men, 2 women. Running time: 18 minutes.)
For the Christian plagued with doubt, Lent can be a troubling time of the year, because, as Peter says, “we go through this six-week process leading up to the telling of one fantastic story.” On Transfiguration Sunday, this twenty-first-century young man envies the first-century Peter, James, and John to whom Jesus revealed his glory, answered their questions, and quenched their doubts…or so Peter imagines. Even for Peter, James, and John, belief in Jesus required a leap of faith. This play was first performed on Transfiguration Sunday, February 29 – Leap Day – 2004.
(2 men, 2 women. Running time: 12 minutes.)
With the announcement from Luke 3 of John’s call from God echoing in the background, a young woman, Andrea, speaks to the audience about the Baptist and her devotion to his mission to prepare the way of the Lord. With the help of five actors, she guides us through the important scenes of this famous life: the angelic announcement to Zechariah, the sending of John to the wilderness with the blessing of the Benedictus, John’s preaching and baptizing, his baptism of Jesus, his confrontation with Herod, and his death. Interspersed with these scenes are the stages of the young disciple’s own journey as she follows John even to the prison where he awaits execution. When he is beheaded, she looks out to the audience and demands, “now that John is dead, who will prepare the way of the Lord? Me? You? Or You? And You?”
(3 men, 3 women. Running time: 25 minutes)
The parable of the talents is played out in a talent agency among three highly competitive agents who have been given different amounts of talent by their boss: a boy band of five, two Christmas ornaments, and one down and out comedian who’s not very funny. The boss expects them to make the most of their talents. Can the agents be persuaded that loving one another will get them further than competing with one another? More importantly, can they change their attitude before Mr. Matthews returns?
(4 men and 2 women. Running time: 22 minutes)
Until his crucifixion, the eleven apostles (formerly known as the "Twelve Disciples") had devoted their lives to following the Messiah. Since his resurrection, the Lord has yet to show himself to the disciples. The apostles know that they have been sent into the world, but without Jesus to tell them exactly where they’re to go or exactly what they should do when they get there, they are hopelessly lost. It is Peter who decides to “go fishing.” From their little boat, overwhelmed by a catch of fish, they see the figure of Jesus on the shore and a few moments later the fishermen are reunited with their Lord. After sharing a breakfast of bread and fish, the risen Christ commands each one of them in the most personal way to “Follow me.”
The message of Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids is more elusive than it seems to be. Is it the case that, on Judgment Day, some people will be saved and others will be damned? Is it that our entry into God’s great wedding reception depends on our own wisdom? Is the real message that only the ready will be received? If so, what does it mean to be ready? To live up to Jesus’ commandments as he presents them in his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21 ff.) would be difficult even in the short term, but fulfilling them perfectly while the Bridegroom is long delayed is humanly impossible. In the end, we must rely on Jesus’ promise that to those who knock, the door will be opened.
(6 men, 5 women. Running time: 17 minutes)
A brief liturgical drama for the day on which the church remembers the Apostles Philip and James, this play serves as a meditation on the role and importance of remembering in the Church. Remembering is a platform for action and an anchor for faith.
(2 men, 2 women. Running time: 10 minutes.)
A theatre troupe that is scheduled to perform a play in a church sanctuary arrives for some precious rehearsal time only to find a large cross laying on the floor of the area in which they are supposed to perform. When their director orders them to pick up the cross and move it out of the way, some of the actors are struck by the symbolism of the action. What would it mean, they wonder aloud, to really pick up your cross and follow Jesus? The question divides the troupe along lines of belief and skepticism; some leave and others sit and watch as a group of actors picks up the cross from the floor and sets it up in its rightful place. With the cross in place, everything is different; indeed, the actors consider giving up the play to devote themselves to purely religious activities. In the end, they resolve to continue working on the play – “it’s what we do, isn’t it?” – but before they leave the sanctuary, they bless themselves with water from the font as a way of carrying the cross with them.
(4 men, 4 women. Running time: 13 minutes.)
This dramatization of the story of the Prodigal Son is set in a western ranch land cafe that is anything but fancy, but friendly enough that people feel comfortable in telling their stories to one another. A man tells a woman the story of his son who has come home with AIDS; a young man tells a pal about his wastrel brother who cares only for himself and has now come home to live as if nothing had ever happened. As they tell their stories, the father and son rise to confront each other in a heart-rending drama about love and its absence. “It’s one of those things,” Dad exclaims, “that you hope and pray for so long that you stop believing it could ever happen. Your brother Alex has come back home!” But Alex’s elder brother Jake is anything but overjoyed at the return of this prodigal, especially now that he was AIDS and will surely bring shame upon the family. It is only the memory of a wife and mother, long dead, that might heal the festering wounds.
(3 men, 2 women. Running time: 25 minutes).
A play for the Lenten and Easter seasons, co-authored by Kari-Anne Innes. It is six o’clock on Holy Saturday evening and Faith, a member of the Altar Guild, rushes into the sanctuary. She is late for the second meeting in a row. The other members of the guild whom she expected to meet have all gone, but soon she is visited by four other women, each of whom have come from another time and place and have had a life-changing encounter with Jesus. The first is Martha, the sister of Lazarus; the second is the Samaritan woman, whom Jesus met at Jacob’s well. The third is Mary, Jesus’ mother, and the fourth is Lydia, a cloth merchant who was converted by the Apostle Paul in Philippi. Each of the women tells her story; each must decide whether or not she will go to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. Finally, the question is put to Faith, “Will you come with us to the tomb?” She must decide whether to answer the call to actively live out her faith.
(5 women. Running time: 21 minutes)
This play tells the story of two lepers separated from their communities on account of their disease. Naaman, commander of the army of the King of Aram, was a mighty warrior, but he suffered from leprosy. When Naaman followed Elisha’s instructions, washing seven times in the Jordan, his flesh is restored and he is made clean. In the first chapter of his Gospel, Mark reports that Jesus met a leper who said to Jesus: “if you choose, you can make me clean.” When Jesus reaches out to touch the leper, he too is made clean. The hard part for both these lepers is been to do that which may seem easy: to accept the grace of God and be made clean. Is this the hard part for us? What separates us from our communities?
(2 men, 2 women, mixed chorus of 4. Running time: 15 minutes.)
The Man Who Was Not far From the Kingdom of God is based on a story in the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 12, in which a scribe asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment of the Law. Jesus answers that the first among the commandments is that one must love the Lord God with all one's heart, soul, mind, and strength; and the second is that one must love one's neighbor as oneself. In the play, Oscar Holtkamp is a young lawyer at the beginning of his career. One day, the senior members of his law firm dispatch Oscar to hear Jesus preach and to ask him a very important question. Jesus’ answer forces Oscar to reconsider some of the most important questions in his life, including what it means to love and be loved. A particularly effective play for young, married adults and those contemplating marriage.
(4 men, 3 women. Running time: 22 minutes.)
John and Mary are getting married - today! They’ve chosen to have the story of The Wedding at Cana read at the ceremony, but, at the last minute, the designated reader is unable to attend. Quickly, John and Mary choose another of their friends and rehearse the reading with him. As he reads aloud to the bride and groom, the story of the Wedding at Cana comes alive before them. John and Mary become the bride and groom at Cana and the wedding congregation takes on the roles of Jesus’ disciples. Once again, the power of Jesus’ miraculous transformation of water into wine deepens the faith of all who witness it.
(5 men, 3 women. Running time: 20 minutes)
The mystery of God’s grace is considered in this acting out of Jesus’ compelling parable of the two sons. In the play, a story-teller narrates Jesus’ parable, and three actors play the roles of the father and the two sons. When the father asks the first of the two to go and work in the vineyard, the son says no, but later goes and works. The second son immediately agrees to go to the vineyard, but later changes his mind and doesn’t go. Jesus asks his hearers to think about which of the two sons did the will of the father. The story-teller then poses Jesus’ question: “What do you think? Which one did the will of the father?” Before anyone can give the correct answer, a member of the audience interrupts the action of the play and challenges the easy assumptions it makes; i.e. that no matter what someone does, the grace of God entitles him to enter the Kingdom, even before of the second sons of the world.
(3 men, 2 women. Running time: 15 minutes.)
Annika is finally making progress at the University. She loves accounting because everything adds up; if only her life were as certain. When she learns from her father that her mother is going to be released early from her prison term, Annika is so disturbed by this unexpected and inexplicable development that she is unable to even greet her mother at home. It is only through listening to the patient urgings of her father and her friend Paul, the proclamation of John’s Gospel of freedom, and the pleas of her brother for the reconciliation of the family that Annika is able to accept the gift of grace and go home. This play was first performed on Reformation Sunday, 2003.
(4 men, 2 women, mixed chorus of 4. Running time 20 minutes.)
A brief history of the life of Jericho’s shortest and most famous tax collector, including some dramatic speculation about his later experience as a follower of Jesus. We watch Zacchaeus, his wife, their servant, and several travelers––all familiar to readers of Luke’s Gospel––as they follow Jesus to Jerusalem. Zacchaeus, who climbs a sycamore to see the Lord in the middle of a crowd, “spends a lot of time in trees” as he observes Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem and, later, his crucifixion on another tree raised on the hill of Golgotha. This is a story about seeing, as Jesus sees, which means you have to open your doors, come out of your house, even climb a tree––to see! A light-hearted play with a serious message.
(4 men, 4 women. Running time: 25 minutes.)