DANLEYTON, Ky. (KT) – Few churches in Kentucky are any more passionate about passion plays than little Danleyton Baptist Church in rural Greenup County.
A lot of Kentucky Baptist churches will celebrate the Easter weekend with passion plays. Some have special services on Good Fridays or Saturday or Sunday nights.
Danleyton Baptist, which averages about 50 members every Sunday, will do its own written and produced play in the evening service – and then do it at least two more times a month through October.
They don’t reserve it for Danleyton Baptist only since they’d have as many participating in the play as watching it. So they take the show on the road.
It’s a ministry that was born 40 years ago, in 1979, during Pastor Jim Forrest’s first tenure at Danleyton. He left the church in 1983 because of moving to a job out of the area but returned as the pastor in 2006.
“In 2006, they wanted me to resurrect the play,” he said. Nearly 30 years had passed but Forrest agreed to try.
The original production in 1979 was called “His Last Days” and the music came from contemporary Christian artists like Dallas Holm, Sandi Patti and Don Francisco who had written the popular “He’s Alive!” The music has evolved over the years although some of the original music is still used.
“I was just out of college and this was my first pastorate and I was building up our youth group at Danleyton,” he said. “I wanted to do something that was easy. People didn’t have to learn a lot of times or worry about speaking in public.”
Forrest incorporated the music into the story of Jesus and the actors would act out the songs through pantomime. The music was the focus but the actors would be in Biblical costume.
“There was no pressure about speaking lines and we could also interchange actors,” he said. “It was very successful for us over the years.”
It takes about 20 to put on the production and that’s about half the congregation at the church. But this has become a commitment and a mission opportunity to take the church into communities.
“We did it every year, several times a year, from 1979 to 1983,” he said.
Forrest, who works for a radio station in Ashland now, had moved to Morehead to work in the broadcast business. The opportunity for him to return to the Ashland area and become the pastor at Danleyton opened up in 2006 and church members begged him to bring it back.
“I told them I don’t know if I can find the music,” he said. “In 1979 it was on reel-to-reel. We took a player with us and then we eventually transferred to cassette. I had to go back and find the music.”
A friend said he had the Dallas Holm album and Forrest used some of the music from that LP. “When you hear the play, you can hear the scratching on some of those songs,” he said. “They were from the original album.”
They indeed resurrected the play in 2007 and have done it multiple times every year since then. “We hit the road with it from Easter to October,” Forrest said. “This might be our biggest year with 11 or 12 churches scheduled.” The second show of this season comes Sunday night at the home church.
The play runs about an hour and does more than tell the Easter story. They also portray the miracles of Jesus, the woman at the well and Jesus healing the blind man and raising the child from death.
Brian Horton, the Association Mission Strategist for the Greenup Baptist Association, saw the play last weekend and walked away impressed.
"It's incredible," Horton said. "They act out the songs and it gives them freedom to bring out the emotions of the moment. A lot of times, when you're singing, you get caught up in the vocal performance. But you felt what they were feeling."
Forrest not only produces and directs the play but he also takes on the role of Jesus. The cast all know their parts well, he said, and the audience “get into listening to the music. They visualize it through what they’re seeing. Our cast really gets into it. You can see it on their faces.”
Forrest said the end of the play has a surprise, which has never been changed, that “really makes people think. There are lots of tears. The music is just so powerful.”
A few years ago the church rented out the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland, an 80-year-old first-class theater and jewel in the area, to put on the play. They had corporate sponsorship so it was free to come and they had several other bands play before the play started. They gave nearly $1,800 to Hospice after taking up donations.
A couple of years ago, they went to Jenkins, Kentucky, and did the play in support of the Freida Baptist relief center that supplies food to the impoverished in the area. The church took several cases of food with them.
He said they also always do an invitation after putting on the production.
“This is something that we have made our mission to go out and spread the gospel,” the pastor said. “We don’t ask for love offerings. We are there to give a message and it’s just as powerful as any message that can be given.”
For more information or to schedule a visit, call Forrest at (606) 922-6664.