Using Drama in Church By inSpire with Martha Hartie

Photo: Martha Hartie
We asked Martha Hartie about the drama ministry she leads in the Alhambra Seventh-day Adventist Church, in Alhambra, Cailfornia.

inSpire - Martha, tell us about your background and how you became interested in using drama in ministry?

Hartie - I was born and raised an Adventist and I grew up with the thought that ministry was only singing and preaching, or passing out tracks. Although I didn't mind passing out tracks, it felt like there had to be more. But what could I do? I wasn't a singer and definitely had no inclination to preach. But I wanted to do something. Life experiences brought me to a deep desire to do something meaningful for God. I began search that eventually led me to a deeper understanding of how God uses all types of gifts for His glory. My gift to tell stories for the gospel grew out of that search. I started telling children's stories in church, but I still felt I wanted to do more. As I studied storytelling with some of the great community storytellers, I realized I could also use this gift to tell relate to adults as well as children.

When I came to the Alhambra Seventh-day Adventist Church, I felt a burning desire to tell gospel stories on a grander scale. I didn't realize that the discussion about developing a drama team at a table one Sabbath during potluck dinner would ever become a reality. Withour me or anyone else at the table knowing it, the associate Pastor was also envisioning using drama to tell the gospel stories. When she announced a drama ministry, I began helping her. When she moved on to another church, I took over the drama department and discovered that I could, in fact, tell the gospel in the most exciting, grand fashion imaginable. I began directing plays and illustrating the stories of the Bible. What a tremendous opportunity. God was using me, a late bloomer and heretofore nonentity, or so I felt, to do a great work for him.

Let me step back to say that I had worked with the play, "The Great Controversy," in the late nineties. It was then that I discovered that even "Adventists" could use "theater" in positive, effective ways. Being equipped with this new realization, and using my storytelling experience along with my job expertise as an Administrative Assistant, I developed the "Grace Place Drama Team." We are a multi-cultural, multi-generational, acting troupe, whose goal was to win souls to Christ through the medium of drama. This is still our mission today.

inSpire - What kind of plays or drama did you start with? What was the subject matter, and how long were they?

Hartie - I started with plays based on biblical stories and have continued using these themes. I enjoy telling the Christmas story from different points of view. For example the point of view of the shepherds or inn keeper et al. Funny you should ask how long were the plays. The first production was an hour long and had a cast of 36 with sets and everything it takes to do a major production. A much grander scale than I would have produced had I not inherited the production. I vowed never to work with such a large cast of volunteer actors again. But our Easter art shows that we've implemented three years ago rival the grandeur of that first production.

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inSpire - How have members responded? Has if been difficult to enlist people to help?

Our members have responded favorably to the drama ministry. We have experienced support from church leadership and there are some members that are a formal a part of the drama ministry. What I find difficult is casting 12 disciples. Bible stories typically have male heavy casts, but each season we succeed in finding the characters we need, with much prayer and grace. I sometimes have to cast actors from outside the church. What I like best is that we have members from the church whose non-member spouses are willing to participate in the dramas. This gives these individuals a meaningful connection with our church family. 

inSpire - How have your performances been well received by your members at large, and by the visitors who come to your church? If you are getting feedback, can you provide us with a few examples?

Hartie - The dramas and Master's Pageant have been very well received by the members of our church. The annual Master's Pageant is a reproduction of religious Master Pieces depicting the last supper, trial, crucifixion, resurrection of Christ using live actors. This is our most ambitious project to date. We partner with the First Baptist Church of Alhambra to benefit homeless families in our area. This gives our church a presence in our community.

Speaking of the dramas, one member, Donna Wolpert, says, "I just love seeing the sets come up during drama season," which for us is Christmas and Easter. She goes on to say that seeing the sets always foretells of something wonderful that is about to happen. One of our Elders, Lubov Kuzmik, says, "It is so exciting to see the drama's coming. It gives me an opportunity to invite friends who would not otherwise come to church, and they are moved by the stories." One actress, Danielle Diaz states, "It is always so rewarding to hear how people are blessed by our dramas."

Shirley Adams, our head deaconess had this to say. "As a retired teacher I know the importance of incorporating the three modes of learning into each and every lesson, if possible. Drama includes both visual and audio in each presentation, thus reaching and impacting each participant as well as the audience. Our members and visitors look forward to the drama presentations as well as the Master's Pageant rendition of famous works of art. People are amazed when they find the "paintings" are "real people."

inSpire - God is certainly blessing your efforts. Thank you for sharing with us. We pray that you continue to find the resources and people you need to engage in this creative ministry.

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This interview was conducted by Rich DuBose, Director of Pacific Union Conference Church Support Services and the inSpire project. All rights reserved © 2012 VisitInSpire.org. Click here for content usage information.