When Wilma Greenlee began teaching youth Sunday school nearly 20 years ago at Columbus’ Lowell General Baptist Church, she saw how the children sometimes struggled to focus on biblical stories or lessons.
“I wanted to get them involved,” she said.
So she began writing original stories in the form of 45-minute plays dealing with topics from commercialization to family stresses. Most of the productions have a holiday theme and are performed in December.
Lowell’s young people and other church members not only paid attention, but they also responded to invitations after the presentations to become believers. A production about three years ago brought five people to the altar at the close.
“The plays have gotten a good reaction,” said the 70-year-old
The productions, which are put on in the church for the whole congregation also have included local links to help drive the holiday message home. Her latest story, “The Third Man,” which will be presented at 6 p.m. Sunday at the church, highlights a woman devoted to outreach efforts with Love Chapel, which helps struggling families with food, rent and more.
While many area churches present Christmas plays, most purchase scripts from Christian resources, or download others online for free.
Vicky Gefius was part of a team of people who wrote original scripts for First Christian Church’s elaborate “A First Christmas” productions here for several years.
“Writing it ourselves was simply a way to try to get people better connected with the story we were trying to tell,” Gelfius said. “I just think people take more ownership with something that they can more closely identify with.”
Even though the church stopped the productions in 2006 in order to free up resources for more direct outreach, Gelfius and others still hear from people telling them how much the plays affected them.
Greenlee is careful to point out that at Lowell General Baptist, the budget is scarce for lighting, costumes and such. But the technical polish is hardly the point.
“We’re working on planting a seed with people,” she said. “And that seed may not sprout until a couple of years from now.”
Her scripts have included discussions about everyday struggles, from depression to Christmas’ commercialization. In 2004, her presentation, “Football vs. Jesus,” focused on people building their Sundays around Indianapolis Colts games while throwing their faith to the sidelines.
Greenlee sometimes has taken parts of her stories from real life, including one young church member’s battle with cancer. He even played himself in the story and, in that role, told of God’s healing in his own words.
But despite the seasonal timing, Greenlee said she feels no need to put Bethlehem front and center.
“Everybody pretty much knows the Christmas story,” she said. “They know all about the baby and the manger. But I’ve found that not everybody knows about salvation.”
So into each yuletide production, she pulls in another scene: a grown man and a cross and his death.
“I want to see people get saved,” she said.
Ronnie Hampton, who normally plays an adult Jesus in Greenlee’s production, sees the presentations as an effective tool for a down-to-earth Christian message.
“I think it all comes down to finding things to help people open their eyes,” Hampton said.
Greenlee looked incredulous when asked if her ideas are running dry after two decades.
“I don’t think I could possibly run out of ideas,” she said. “At least, not after listening to all the world’s