Thousands are flocking to the D.C. area’s mega churches for Broadway-style productions created in the name of Jesus. From the First Baptist Church of Glenarden to Riverdale Baptist’s Living Christmas Tree, to Evangel Cathedral’s Christmas Celebration 2016, there is no shortage of holiday productions.
“The whole goal for this play is to reach the community,” said Joshua Jenkins, playwright and producer for the Uncut Christmas Story. “It is more than just entertainment. It is telling the story of Jesus in a provocative way. It is not spooky spiritual. It is a story that everybody can relate to.”
Unlike Hollywood treatments of the story of Jesus, Jenkins, who wrote the script, focuses on adult themes including the tension between the Virgin Mary and her fiancé Joseph after she told him she was pregnant with the Christ child. He also focuses on the mass killing of baby boys by Herod to try to eliminate Jesus. “King Herod killed a lot of children and people just don’t talk about that,” said Jenkins. “There is a need for ministry to find love again. No matter who is the president I want to stress that God is still God. He is still on the throne.”
While some productions can be expensive, the First Baptist production is free and over the years has attracted more than 16,000 people. In addition to the production, those who arrive early can browse through the sights, smells, and sounds of Bethlehem. This is similar to what the cast does at Evangel Cathedral and Riverdale Baptist.
The First Baptist church, led by the Rev. John K. Jenkins Sr., senior pastor, has more than 11,000 active members with more than 100 ministries. The next show dates are Dec. 17 and 18. For more information, visit fbcglenarden.org.
For the last 30 years Riverdale Baptist Church has put on The Living Christmas Tree. The production features music, acting, and a choir singing alongside a tall Christmas tree adorned with flashing lights. The Riverdale production takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 16, 1:30 p.m. and at 6 p.m. on Dec. 17, and at 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 18.
“Exposing people to the gospel. That is our big reward,” said Cathy Willis, director of operations for Riverdale Baptist. “Through this production we are able to reach out to people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Our biggest prayer is that we will be able to touch people’s hearts.”
The largest and oldest Christmas pageants take place at Evangel Cathedral in Bowie. Their Christmas Celebration} features special effects, gospel recording artists, and a cast of more than 200 people. Evangel was one the first churches to take the story of Jesus from the manger to the cross while inserting Motown music and children singing.
Evangel, under the leadership of Bishop Don Meares, has been putting on productions for more than three decades. Mathews said now many churches are doing the same. “It is rewarding to see how we can take drama and the theater and put it in a forum that allows us to get out a message of hope and redemption. We had more than 12,000 people come our first weekend.”
The Evangel production, takes place several times during the Dec. 16th -18th weekend and features gospel recording artists Kirk Franklin, Tamela Mann, and Marvin Sapp.
“I thank God for the First Baptist Church of Glenarden and Riverdale Baptist because it takes more than one church and one organization to reach everybody,” said Elder R. Kevin Mathews, host of Evangel’s Christmas Celebration. “These productions inspire the community and lift people’s spirits.”